Red roses, candlelight dinners and elaborate proposals are a few of the many romantic clichés that are time and again used in pop culture, especially movies. From Bridget Jones’ Diary to Sleepless in Seattle—romantic love in cinema is often unrealistically portrayed and reinforces gender stereotypes. But real life is far different from such representations: it doesn’t adhere to pop culture’s skewed depiction of masculinity or femininity (thankfully) and seldom has a happily ever after. But still, it has love and the struggle between two people that comes with love.
So here are a few romantic movies that entertain whilst shattering sexist stereotypes!
Silver Linings Playbook
Academy Award Winning Silver Linings Playbook is a 2012 hit starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the leading roles. Pat (Cooper), a bipolar patient who was institutionalised for eight months after beating up the man his wife was cheating on him with, desperately tries to communicate with his estranged wife, who has a restraining order, and in his quest to do so, bumps into Tiffany (Lawrence), a widowed and recovering sex addict—who promises to help him if he participates in a dance competition with her. Thematically, the movie deals with stigmatisation of two people with mental health conditions and how they find comfort in each other’s company. Often, conversations about psychiatric health are portrayed in a negative light in mainstream culture, but this film challenges that.
Frances Ha is the story of an adorably reckless, self-doubting, awkward 27-year-old struggling dancer. Wrecked by her parting with her best friend and roommate, Sophie, Frances moves from one place to another: from her friends’ place to her parents to a disastrous trip to Paris that leaves her broke to working as a waitress at her alma mater. The movie highlights the thin line between self-discovery and attempting to escape reality and brilliantly depicts the journey of a young woman trying to get her act together, with some important feminist messages.
Queen, the 2014 Bollywood blockbuster, proved that sometimes break ups are a good thing. The movie is about the introverted, conservative Rani (Kangana Ranaut), who battles rejection and a damaged self-esteem. When Rani’s ‘London-return’ fiancé ditches her two days before their wedding, she courageously decides to go on their pre-booked honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam alone. Along the way, she befriends many who change her perspective on life and restore her confidence. The gradual transformation of a heartbroken, dependent girl to a liberated, self-assured and independent woman who refuses to let chauvinist men like her ex-fiancé push her around, makes Queen a landmark victory for feminist Indian cinema.
A divorced single mom and masseuse, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), meets Albert (the late James Gandolfini in his last screen outing), another single parent, through a common friend at a party. Both bond over their kids going off to college and start seeing each other. The movie is a mature love story that challenges Hollywood’s rampant ageism and deals with sensitive issues such as divorce, single parenthood and ageing. It earned Julia Louis-Dreyfus a Golden Globe nomination.
This 2005 classic is a tragic tale of two cowboys falling in love in a society that represses any form of alternate sexuality, and tackles the struggles of being a closeted member of the LGBT+ community. Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet and sleep together once on a shepherding job and subsequently have a fight and go their separate ways. As a result of repressing their feelings, both have failed marriages and unfulfilled lives, but their love transcends all bounds of society and survives the test of time, despite having tragic consequences.
Donna (Jenny Slate), a struggling stand-up comedian and bookstore clerk becomes pregnant after a one night stand with Max, a business student she finds at a bar. In most romcoms, an unplanned pregnancy leaves the protagonist with two options – decide to raise the child on your own and fall in love with the male protagonist, or mull over the idea of abortion for a bit, have a change of heart and raise the child with/without a partner. Donna’s immediate instinct is to get an abortion, an instinct she goes through with in spite of falling for her male counterpart. The movie destigmatises abortion, which is pretty revolutionary, since many mainstream films still refuse to take an openly pro-choice stance.
Blue Is The Warmest Color
Blue is the Warmest Colour is a French movie revolving around sexual exploration, first love and heartbreak. Attempting to figure out her sexual identity, Adèle, a 15-year-old girl ends up at a lesbian bar where she finds Emma, a blue-haired woman she once saw crossing the road and found attractive. Soon they begin seeing each other. Later, Adèle and Emma start living together and as their conflicts increase they realise they have nothing in common. The movie covers a host of sub-plots: their families’ contrasting reception of their sexuality, Adèle’s lack of self-confidence, her increased dependence on Emma, and so on. This is a never-before seen exploration of lesbian sexuality, and won great critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.
Kissing Jessica Stein
Kissing Jessica Stein, a 2001 release, is the story of Jessica, a copy-editor who thought she’s straight all her life, only to find her ideal soulmate in a woman. What follows is confusion about her sexual identity – her reluctance regarding intimacy and the inability to distinguish between the hazy lines of friendship, infatuation and romance. It gives a fairly refreshing approach to the families’ reaction and is thematically focused on gender fluidity instead of bisexuality—a remarkable feat for a movie that came out in the early 2000s.
The standard structure of a romantic movie goes like this: cheesy wooing, typically after love at first sight, with two or more break-ups, and elaborate proposals, before a final union. Predictability is the norm and hence, one really yearns for movies that project love and romance that one can connect with–with less symbolism and more substance. Well, thankfully, we don’t draw a blank in this search with these trope-free romantic films–some with a minimal dose of red roses and chocolates but still, entirely relatable and refreshingly entertaining.
Featured Image: Still from ‘Queen’. Source: YouTube.