So what movies help you celebrate love with good humour, but while exploring it with some moral integrity? Well, there are a few, and here is a list of my favs.
1. About Time
The men in his family have the ability to travel through time, and our protagonist wants to use it to get a girlfriend. But this is not just a 'get the girl' movie, it's about love, death and family... and spanning several years, it's about time. Not sci fi time, but out personal relationship to it.
This is Richard Curtis's (of Nothing Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually fame) most grounded and grown up movie. It has all of his trade marks, it's sweet and funny to his style that we've come to love. Upgrading Huge Grant for the wonderful Domhnall Gleeson. But this is clearly a movie made by a much more lived man. Even the beautiful American love interest that makes up all of his leading ladies, in this film has an actual personality. But you could also say that love too is finally given a personality. Love is the ultimate Mary Sue in romantic movies, but this movie celebrates it while dealing with it as a reality, something that can often be mundane, confusing, and hard to deal with.
It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry. A very sweet film, and in my opinion, a very romantic one too.
2. Friends With Kids
When two best friends realise kids ruin all their friends marriages, they start to envy divorced parents who can go and find their 'one' without all that pressure. It's then they realise, maybe they could co-parent together as friends.
This is When Harry Met Sally but updated to be both more true to life and more fun to watch. It manages to say a lot about relationships, in fact writer, director and star Jennifer Westfeldt is often referred to as the female Woody Allen. But I think of her more as Woody Allen for people who either get too bummed out watching his films, or just get sick of the lack of polish in the final product and want to watch a real 'movie'. Either way, I love her.
Great casting, no dull moments, and upbeat feel while dealing with real conflicts. This is a very underrated film.
3. Don Jon
Jon prides himself on being able to have one night stands with perfect 10s, but in secret, he can only really lose himself when he's watching porn. He desperately wants to find a girl who can fix this for him, and so sets his sights on a character played by Scarlett Johansson. After all, how could someone that sexy not be the solution?
It's not a perfect movie, so I get why it loses a few people, but I love it. It's got a lot going for it. We're a generation that try to use things in place of real intimacy and what feminist Joseph Gordon Levitt (writer, director and star) has to say about this is worth the ride. We start out in a fairly cartoonish world, which can at moments be pretty funny, or horrific depending on your sentiments. But as we follow Jon's journey in becoming more self aware, a more realistic aesthetic starts kicking in, and at this point if you're on-board with the message, you get some surprisingly beautiful moments.
Some honorary mentions
Trainwreck was a huge rom-com this year. And I so wanted to love it. From the first scene, I was onboard. It was funny, it was fresh, it explored an interesting problem you don't often see explored... but then it lost me at the end. It was almost like writer and star Amy Schumer didn't know the answer to the problem she was looking at so just relied on rom-com tropes. A total departure to the rest of the movie. Still, I think a lot of people really enjoyed it, and my 'meh' about it has more to do with how good I know this film could have been.
Speaking of, I was very aware that I wasn't listing a Judd Apatow movie. I'm not too surprised, I think they do clever things to invite men into the rom com world, and they have some more interesting content, but they're also not very romantic. With the exception of Trainwreck they tend to just make relationships feel like a drag. If I was to mention one, This is 40 I think has the most valentines day appeal. Not because it's romantic, but because it's at least fair to both genders in how it mocks marriage, and you don't leave wishing they'd break up.
Not all Woody Allen movies are a downer. There are some that are very sweet or even romantic, but I didn't list them because the reality is he's still actually pretty niche taste. Everyone Says I Love You has a lot of charm but, being a musical, is hard to recommend. Mighty Aphrodite is great fun and probably one of his best films, but want does it really say about romance when you get down to it?
No all, in all, I think the above three films are unusual in how they blend romance, comedy, and thinking into the perfect film for valentines day.
Meaning our winner is... About Time