Rom-com field guide

Celebrate a low-key Valentine’s with some of our favorite romantic comedies.

Tony

“Rick Mathis (Gerard Butler) is a lovelorn pilot who can’t stop flying away from his problems. Now he’s stuck on the red eye with fiery flight attendant Victoria Chase (Alyssa Milano), and they had better ‘Expect Some Turbulence!’” Ugh.

If you’re looking to snuggle up with a movie and a special someone this Valentine’s Day, don’t default to whatever’s on the new release shelf at Blockbuster. Instead, check out some of these overlooked and unconventional romantic comedies:

 

“Harold and Maude” (1971)

Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon

Director: Hal Ashby

 

What is it about?

Death-obsessed young man Harold and 79-year-old Maude bond over a shared penchant for crashing funerals. Maude teaches Harold how to enjoy life through art and music as they fall in love, to the horror of Harold’s wealthy mother.

 

What sets it apart?

You’re probably sick of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, and I don’t blame you. While Maude isn’t the original MPDG, she’s certainly one of the most influential. “Harold and Maude” uses its lead actors’ age difference to play with the formula in a way that’s well worth your time. It’s also beautifully scored by Cat Stevens and mines a lot of dark laughs out of Harold’s repeated suicide
attempts.

 

“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson. Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

 

What is it about?

Sandler, a lonesome novelty plunger salesman has a delayed coming-of-age as he romances Emily Watson, scams Healthy Choice out of frequent flier miles and runs from phone sex line extortionists.

 

What sets it apart?

“Punch-Drunk Love” isn’t laugh-out-loud funny and it doesn’t follow the standard rom-com formula, but it’s the best movie on this list. Director P.T. Anderson pulls a great performance out of Sandler, channeling his rage-prone man-child schtick into something compelling. “Punch-Drunk Love” flexes the boundaries of what a rom-com can be, and the results are deeply satisfying.

 

“Roman Holiday” (1953)

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Director: William Wyler

 

What is it about?

Audrey Hepburn plays a European princess who escapes from her duties and is found by American reporter Gregory Peck. They spend the day exploring Rome and fall in love along the way.

 

What sets it apart?

Honestly, not much but its classic status. “Roman Holiday” is one of the iconic films of the genre and has influenced generations of romantic comedies. It is often overlooked in favor of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but in terms of Valentine’s fare, “Roman Holiday” is the can’t-miss pick.

 

“Annie Hall” (1977)

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Director: Woody Allen

 

What is it about?

Allen essentially plays himself as Alvy, a neurotic Jewish comedian living in New York City. The film portrays his relationship with Keaton’s Annie over several years, often with surreal detours into their past or inner thoughts.

 

What sets it apart?

“Annie Hall” is another film that subverts the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype to great effect, and its experimental portions are some of the highlights. Any nebbish college guy has seen himself as Alvy at some point, and the film’s patient, talky style makes the more off-the-wall portions even better.

 

“The Science of Sleep” (2006)

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsberg

Director: Michel Gondry

 

What is it about?

Stéphane is an artist with vivid dreams and a sleepwalking problem who returns to his childhood home after the death of his father. He struggles with feelings for his next-door neighbor Stéphanie as well as distinguishing his dreams from reality.

 

What sets it apart?

If you want to see Michel Gondry invade some dreams, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a great pick, but it’s a little too heavy for Valentine’s Day. “The Science of Sleep” has all of “Eternal Sunshine’s” beautiful, mind-bending sequences but with a hefty dose of whimsy. Just what the doctor (Dr. Love, M.D.) ordered.