It stinks. It hurts. I may mean never having to say you’re sorry, but it’s also been known to cause a burning, itching in the heart. We’re talking about love, that most meaningful (and often meaningless) of emotions, that ambiguous and vague feeling of fondness that, like the Supreme Court and pornography, is often hard to define but easy to spot once it’s present. A lot is made out of love. There are sonnets and songs, poems, prayers, and promises. We often wonder what we’d do for it, why we can’t find it, and when we do, why it fades and then floats away. Perhaps love isn’t really that great after all. It does drive humans to distraction – and disaster. It also becomes a beacon for those without it, a holy grail perched on top of Mt. Everest that no one, including the lost and/or lonely, can ever hope to uncover.
So naturally, on this day (14 February) where we are forced to revere love, we’ve decided to take stand – cinematically speaking. Instead of pointing out all the films (like the syrupy Affair to Remember) where the esoteric emotion apparently conquers all, we’ve decided to do the exact opposite. Indeed, instead of candy and kisses we are looking at hatred and the horrors of relationships. That’s right, this list will focus on the 10 Best Anti-Romantic Movies of all time, film that forward an agenda against Cupid and his crew and more toward cruelty and couple’s counseling. Granted, we’ve weeded through the usual suspects (Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons) to get to efforts we actually like, but in each case, the miserable message is loud and clear. Love does indeed stink and hurt – and sometimes, as in our first choice, it can literally tear your heart out.
Since it is one of the few films to feature the holiday as part of its plotline, we include this callous Canadian slasher effort to highlight our hatred of the whole ‘hearts and flowers’ routine. A small town known for its annual love festival finds itself haunted once again by a murderous miner with vivisection on his mind. Luckily for the fiend that the people has just decided to restart their formerly forbidden celebration. Lots of victim fodder available as blood and body parts flow, all within the theme of forever ‘forget me nots’. A jaundiced little gem, so much meaner than its middling post-millennial remake.
All she wanted to do was get married. All he wanted to do was see her dead. Thus we have the premise for Quentin Tarantino’s amazing Shaw Brothers homage, a martial arts movie where style and substance clash like gleaming samurai swords. If Hell half no fury like a woman scorned, then the Bride is Satan’s number one female firebrand. Desperate to make her fiendish ex pay for his attempted wedding day assassination, she travels the globe killing anyone and everyone who stands in her way. In this history of cinematic relationships destined to dissolve, the one between Bill and the Bride is like Alien-acid.
Hoping to rekindle a complicated high school romance, ghostwriter Mavis Gary returns to her tiny Minnesota hometown, only to see her plans peter out in a series of sour memories and shot glasses. As the woman traversing her own horrific memory lane, Charlize Theron is brilliant, braving the slings and arrows of her own outrageous actions. Even more compelling is Patton Oswalt as the bullied boy from her past who shows her the erroneous idiocy of her ways. In the end, our heroine learns some hard life lessons, like you can’t go home again, and be careful of which ’90s alternative act you worship.
Whenever a movie hits too close to home, emotionally or psychologically, it instantly moves from entertainment to endurance test. That’s the case with this marriage falling apart farce from Mr. Woody Allen. Crafted just as his relationship with Mia Farrow was about to take a tabloid accusatory turn and then just implode, pseudo-incest style, this movie (along with at least two others on the list) contains dialogue so truthful you’d swear it was merely dictated from divorce court records, not created by artistic individuals. As painful as it is funny, it represents the final stage in Allen’s post-funnyman renaissance. He would have other hits, but none as nasty as this.
Speaking of nasty! Elizabeth Taylor earned a well-deserved Oscar for her work as the frumpy, angry bitch wife to wounded college professor Richard Burton in Mike Nichols’ insightful spin on Edward Albee’s award winning play. As Martha and George, they are the stereotypical marrieds. She’s strident. He’s henpecked. Together, they bring a pair of unsuspecting guests into their whirlwind of vitriol and regret, turning a nice night out into a journey through Dante’s Inferno. As each fresh layer of Hell is revealed, their words become more and more spiteful — and the emotional truths more and more intriguing. A tour de force tour de force.
5 – 1
Most modern romantic comedies are overloaded with female flavors of the month, mired in scripts that send them off into the Land of the Imbecile, never to be heard from again. Toss in a few music montages and you have a recipe for mainstream movie mediocrity. The brilliance of Marc Webb’s revisionist take on the genre is that, first off, the girl comes across as the bad guy? Indeed, Zoey Deschanel’s indecisive title character turns Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s likeable leading man into a sputtering, stuttering fool… and for all the wrong reasons. He wants romance. She’s not sure what she wants. Together they head toward the best unhappy happy ending ever.
Lovesick pedophiles? Fringe dwelling geeks who can’t make normal human connections? Oldsters still wanting to sow their sexual oats? Weak-willed women as the doormat for frustrated family members and nefarious foreigners? This is the world of romance created by Todd Solondz, a fractured and sometimes funny place where child molesters masturbate to Tiger Beat magazine while their young sons wonder if Daddy finds them attractive — and if not, why. With a narrative as antithetical to its title and a cast that completely sells us on the whole desperate and dateless ideal, we wind up with one of the most telling takes on love ever. It’s both sensational and sick.
As we mentioned before, movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Husbands and Wives are loaded with the kind of callous, completely authentic arguing that makes enduring their ideas difficult at best. But no recent film has been more brazen in its spousal showdowns than Sam Mendes exceptional adaptation of Richard Yates’ novel. Plugging former Titanic lovers Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet into the roles of recently married suburbanites was just the first stroke of genius by the Oscar winning director. By focusing on their fights, making them as believable and real as possible, Mendes shows us that, even when things look polished and perfect on the outside, the ugly underneath is undeniable.
If Danny Devito were are ballsy as Sam Mendes, this would have been the original Revolutionary Road — meaning a movie of undeniable authenticity rejected by a public unwilling to stare its stark, reflective truths. Instead, the diminutive director went for the funny bone, not the jugular, and wound up creating one of the seminal anti-romance movies ever. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are terrific as the title couple, each one laying claim to their married legacy and the treasured trappings that go along with it. The dissolution of their partnership is as wickedly funny as their courtship is clever and cute. By the end, it’s hate, not humor, that drives them.
It’s perhaps the most pathetic story in all of music. Surly Sid Vicious, best friend to formidable Sex Pistol’s frontman Johnny Rotten is pegged to replace a fired bandmate in the scandalous punk outfit. Within months, he is hooked on heroin and pestered by a biopolar American harpy named Nancy Spungeon. Together, the newfound lovers walk a twisted, tainted path toward an inevitable date with death. Sure, they say they care for each other, but dope is deeper than devotion, and within their drug-fueled fracas, the foundation for the unhappiest of endings if forged. If this is true love, we’ll take the fake kind any day.