Relationship Wisdom from Six Great Movies

Love stories that break the mold and actually teach us how to be better partners

BY DAVID HOPKINS

I hate love stories for the same reason that I hate poetry and theater. In that, I really love poetry and theater, but I’ve seen so many terrible attempts that I just want people to leave it alone. I would rather have no poetry than bad poetry. My standards are impossibly high. (I’ve taught over a thousand students in twelve years. I had one good poet. Sorry to any of the “999” reading this. Um, you’re young; you’ll get better?) And I love love stories.

A good love story makes sense of a world that is often cynical and filled with catastrophe. However, the movie industry has abused the genre, transforming it into demographic pandering, i.e. add a bit of romance to get the ladies interested in this film. Coincidentally, most love stories feature a woman who deserves better but settles for a lesser man, and this is exactly what happens with the movie industry. We’re settling for a bunch of crap stories. They reveal no greater truth. The plot crawls on the merit of eye-rolling misunderstandings and grand gestures.

As a favor to the movie industry, I’d like to share my list of six great movies about relationships. You probably already know these movies are great because my readers are smart and classy. It’s everyone else we need to convert.

To the list…

6. Ruby Sparks (trailer) — For a silly premise, this one is surprisingly deep. A gifted writer creates the great love of his life by typing her into existence. Like all great creations, Ruby moves beyond his control. Without spoiling anything, the third act is disturbing. However, the movie will not disappoint. Kudos to Zoe Kazan for great writing and great acting. Fiction turns into a metaphor for the fictions and expectations bring to our own relationships.

Nugget of wisdom: You can’t control or manipulate the people you love. They have to have their own life.

5. (500) Days of Summer (trailer) — Not technically a love story, but it is. And it’s not. The film is so honest about one of the most overlooked realities: sometimes, people don’t feel the same way. This film plays off the audience’s expectation of the genre to stunning effect. The “You Make My Dreams Come True” dance sequence is marvelous. Plus: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He does not make bad movies.

Nugget of wisdom: We bring our myths about love with us.

4. Away We Go (trailer) — I confess. I cried when I first watched the trailer. Yes, tears and everything. I’m a huge sap. How this movie (written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, directed by Sam Mendes) flew under the radar in 2009 is beyond me. It’s a great film. A couple, long-term and committed but unmarried, take a journey to find a new home before their child is born. The trip is an exploration into the world of relationships. Each stop reveals a new dimension of long-term monogamy: the challenges, the tragedies, and the happiness. The film is heavy with meaning without being mean-spirited. The film, in some respects, is the opposite of a romantic comedy, while still being loving and humorous.

Nugget of wisdom: A long-term commitment (and/or marriage) is incredibly hard, and comes with a lot of baggage, but the journey is worth it.

3. Love Actually (trailer) — I might get some crap about this one. Away We Go is the anti-romcom; Love Actually is essentially every romcom trope thrown into a single film. I’ll admit it’s very saccharin. And lately, the Love Actually structure has been mercilessly scavenged by Hollywood. However, when this film debuted, it was something special. It’s an anthology of interconnected short stories. The Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman story is the most heartbreaking. The Laura Linney story is the most poignant. The Bill Nighy story is most surprising (in a good way). The Colin Firth story has the best payoff. You know the scene. And I learned that “table” is the same in England and in the U.S.

Nugget of wisdom: Love is all around. They literally spell out the theme on the screen. Who am I to improve on it?

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (trailer) — Joel attempts to have a bad relationship erased from his memory, then meets her again–unaware of their previous encounter. This movie has my favorite last line, but I won’t spoil it. Okay? The final conversation between Joel and Clementine says so much about the transitions in relationships, the early electricity to the deeper acceptance of people, including their faults. The final image is haunting. This Michel Gondry/Charlie Kaufman collaboration is offbeat, and I would expect no less. You get a real glimpse at the life cycle of this self-destructive couple. His desire is tangible, to recover from the pain and hold on to the better moments.

Nugget of wisdom: We take the bitter with the sweet.

1. Annie Hall (trailer) — I’ll sneak one in that wasn’t made in the past ten years. Alvy Singer is too neurotic to make any relationship last, and yet he continues to jump headlong into them. This one takes all the “nuggets” and places them into one flawless Woody Allen film. It’s one of my favorite movies. It’s one of April’s favorite movies too. I took this as a sign that the universe wanted us together. Some people cringe at Woody Allen films. They aren’t romantic; they’re honest in their own way and uniquely melancholy.

Nugget of wisdom: Relationships can be totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, but we need them.

Any relationship movies you would recommend? Post in the comments.

This article originally appeared on my blog, That David Hopkins.

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