9 Romantic Movies for People Who Are Tired of Romantic Comedy

In these films, the right place is more important than the right time

A basketball court, a hospital suite, a newsroom. The lamp-lit streets of Vienna, a colorful South London gallery, or the mountains of Wyoming. There’s no telling where a person might fall in love. Check out these movie recommendations if you’re looking to watch a film about love and place.


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Before Sunrise

Richard Linklater

I was in high school when Richard Linklater’s quiet, convincing romantic masterpiece Before Sunrise first came out. Two young strangers, Jesse and Celine, meet on a train and decide to spend the night roaming Vienna’s cobblestone streets, parks, and carnivals. They pass street poets, castles, and cafés, engage in lingering looks and easy, epic conversation. Together, they create an alchemy of possibility. The camera’s soft gaze and the ephemeral nature of the lovers’ time together, spent in motion exploring a beautiful place, left me in pure, swoon-worthy bliss. Oh, I ate it up. In the subsequent Before Sunset and Before Midnight, we have the uncommon luxury of checking in with the pair, in new phases of their lives and in new landscapes. Here they are, a decade later, reuniting in Paris, back on the move, the city itself a glowing hand gently nudging them together again. Another nine years pass and we find them along the sun-drenched Peloponnese coast, married with children and facing the more sobering realities of a midlife, long-term relationship. Still, when feet are spontaneous, when surroundings are lush, and the talk is good, the tenderness of mutual discovery, of shared possibility, remains.  

—Kathleen Yale

 

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Chungking Express 

Wong Kar-wai

A quirky food stand waitress crushes on a lovelorn cop. A plainclothes detective falls for a mysterious woman (who turns out to be a drug smuggler). Set in 1990s Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express is a charmingly optimistic take on romance in the postmodern city. It follows four lonely protagonists whose utterly disparate lives inevitably overlap; they meet by accident and end up slumped against one another at a bar or dozing off together on the couch. Wong’s Hong Kong is a place of unlikely encounters—where two attractive strangers from opposite ends of the social spectrum are bound to run into each other (literally). “You brush past so many people every day,” says the detective, “and some people you may never know anything about, but others might become your friend someday.”

Sophia Kang

 

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The Big Sick 

Michael Showalter

“I’m gonna ask you one last time: are you her husband?”

After months of dodging marriage appointments arranged by his Pakistani parents, Kumail Nanjiani agrees to an “arranged marriage” in a hospital: a doctor’s request that he stand in as husband and consent to put his secret, white girlfriend, Emily Gordon, into a medically induced coma. And that’s just the middle of The Big Sick.

Though the two meet in a comedy club and begin fall in love to the soft glow of B-horror films, it’s in the transitory space of the hospital after Emily falls suddenly ill that Kumail shifts from kind-of boyfriend to full-blown devotee. While she sleeps, he moves between his own life as a struggling comedian (and let-down son of immigrant parents) and Emily’s bedside, making a collection of visitor’s badges, carrying bouquets of balloons, bonding with her family, and fighting for her safety. One problem: the last time they talked before Emily went to sleep, they’d already broken up.

Based on Nanjiani and Gordon’s real-life love story, The Big Sick is a genuinely hilarious, authentic assertion that in cases of real love, it’s more about being there, in the right place, than at the right time. 

Madeleine LaPlante-Dube

 

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Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee 

Perhaps no figure embodies toxic masculinity more than the iconic cowboy of the American West. But that lone individual on horseback has always been more complex than the stereotype. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is often described as a “gay cowboy movie,” yet that too is a simplification. The film, based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx, follows the twenty-year romance of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Though both understand the deadly consequences of homosexual love in 1963 Wyoming, the two are brought passionately together by bitter cold and the high craggy landscape of their sheep camp. “You know I ain’t queer,” Ennis tells Jack the next morning. “Me neither,” Jack replies. But they make love again and again. When they finally leave Brokeback Mountain, they try, and fail, to resume the straight lives expected of them. 

The contrast between what society demands and what the mountain allows is stark. Proulx writes: “There were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk’s back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs and distant from tame ranch dogs barking in the dark hours. They believed themselves invisible . . .”

Tara Rae Miner

 

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Love and Basketball

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s four-quartered, coming-of-age epic, opens in the lush gardens of L.A.’s upper-middle-class suburbia. Surrounded by fronds of lacy ferns and pink petunias, eleven-year-old neighbors, Monica and Quincy, share their first kiss (“For how long?” Monica asks, “Five seconds,” says Quincy) and then immediately tussle their way into a falling out and become best friends instead. With homes separated by a neat strip of grass and bedroom windows facing one another, their connection weathers the ups and downs of growing up. But it’s only on the basketball court—whether the asphalt of pick-up games or the shining floors of Crenshaw High and USC—that they can be their most authentic selves, confident in their abilities, comfortable in their bodies. Everywhere else is disorienting: the navigation of complex parental relationships, competition, and ambition (“I’m gonna be the first girl in the NBA,” says Monica), a prom-triggered confession of feelings—breaking up in college. It’s not until Monica is alone in Barcelona playing professionally that she realizes her love of basketball has become empty. When they reconnect, Quincy is about to be married. “Why’d you give up ball?” he asks. That night, Monica climbs out her bedroom window for the last time to answer him: “It’s not fun for me anymore because you’re missing.” She challenges Quincy to a final game—for his heart, and hers. 

Natalie Middleton

 

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35 Shots of Rum

Claire Denis

For an hour or so there’s only what isn’t said between these four: Lionel, a widower teetering on the edge of despair but for the reach of his daughter pulling him back; Jo, the daughter, hungry for love but unwilling, or unable, to leave her father; Noé, who loves Jo; and Gabrielle, who loves Lionel. Their movements are guided by the tension between what they want and the fear of what might happen if they ever were to give words to their desire, first toward one another, then away, then back… What finally opens them to one another is nothing more complex than a change of scene, when Gabrielle’s car breaks down on their way to a concert, and, stranded in the rain, they take shelter in a closed coffee shop, setting up a tangle of what our film columnist, Moeko Fujii, writing for The New Yorker, describes as “restraint, liberation, inner life brought to the surface.”

The shop owner puts on some music, and there is, first, the dance of father and daughter, sweet enough till it’s cut short by Noé, who, in his reverie with Jo, we can’t tear our eyes away; and then we do, and we watch a man watching his daughter dance, and her own eyes flickering back and forth between the men of her life; and then we watch him dance with the woman who loves him; and then we watch her watch him dance with the shop owner. Desperate expressions emerge in the absence of language, a rhythmic meeting of silent hands and furtive glances drawn out by the temporary environment of a warm, dark room which once was closed off to the world.

—Sumanth Prabhaker

 

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Rye Lane

Raine Allen-Miller

Our love story begins in the toilets of an urban, ultra-modern art exhibit run out of a warehouse in bustling South London. The concrete walls drip with vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and green underscoring the cheeky, ping-ponging energy of the film. After a chance meeting, down-on-their-luck hopeless romantics Yas and Dom spend the day strolling through the Rye Lane Market, reminiscing about their past relationships. And wouldn’t you know, in just a few hours, they have journeyed miles from where they started. Yas’ colorful storytelling skills are complemented by a bright, fuzzy tote bag hanging off a shoulder clad in yellow, a stream of rainbow balloons sailing through the marketplace. Dom’s glum resistance to change is contrasted by his pink Converse and the fiery red, too-small chair left in someone’s backyard. Armed with the familiar warmth of a classic rom-com mixed with the cool, super hip tones of a buzzy city neighborhood, Rye Lane is all about finding spots of brightness amidst hard times. Perhaps Yas puts it best: “There are two types of people in this world. Those who wave at boats, and those who hate joy.”

Emiko Grant

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Groundhog Day

Harold Ramis

While reporting from the polka-loving hamlet of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with his co-worker, Rita, Phil Connors (a smug, big-city weatherman “who thinks he makes the weather”) becomes trapped in a maddening time loop of Groundhog Day. Each morning, he awakens to gray slush and the radio announcing February 2. A blizzard always sets in by evening, adding to his claustrophobic imprisonment.

In this philosophical comedy, Phil relives Groundhog Day until he learns to selflessly love—not only Rita—but also the warm community of Punxsutawney. Only then is he released, and wakes to February 3 with Rita still beside him. Looking out the frosty windows, he sees the world blanketed in a new day of sparkling snow and possibilities.

“It’s so beautiful!” Phil exclaims, “Let’s live here. . . . We’ll rent to start.”

Natalie Middleton

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His Girl Friday

Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks’ 1940 screwball classic, His Girl Friday, turns a critique of yellow journalism into romantic comedy. Roguish newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is still in love with ex-wife and ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell). To stop her from marrying her new beau (Ralph Bellamy) in the next twenty-four hours, he begs her to find a clever angle for the biggest story in town: the impending execution of a convicted murderer. He knows that Hildy is at heart, in his words, a “newspaper man” and can’t resist a scoop. And she knows a career-making opportunity when she sees one.

Their love is rekindled not by grand gestures but by the pace and excitement of the early twentieth-century newsroom. Instead of music, the leads are serenaded by the click-clack of typewriters, which lend urgency to the story they’re manufacturing—and to the looming date of Hildy’s wedding. They spit flirty zingers at each other as if every word is on deadline (the film holds the record for fastest words spoken per minute on screen).

As morning breaks, their dream of a sensational story is dashed by a police raid, but no matter; they’ve already come to the same conclusion. In an industry built on fabricating multiple realities out of any given event, they’re the only two on the same page.

Amy Brady

This is a collection of Orion Staff contributions.