10 Alternative Love Stories That Are Worth A Watch
What are the first things you think about when someone asks you to go see a rom-com? Predictable? Boring? Cheesy? Wikipedia can reduce the entire genre to a very specific formula, unlike any other genre, which suggests that love is frustratingly misrepresented in these films.
After all, when is it ever really that simple? Rarely. Love is complex. It spawns lust, passion, anger, jealousy. And there should be films out there that represent this shouldn’t there? If you require more from your romance movies than a simple ‘boy meets girl’, look no further. Here is a list of alternative love stories that will definitely make you think, if not move, disturb and tickle you. Enjoy!
10. Punch-Drunk Love
Adam Sandler may star, but don’t be fooled. This is anything but a classic Hollywood romcom. This off-the-wall quirky comedy from genius Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, The Master) sees Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a lonely and socially awkward business owner.
In the hands of another director, this character would be the same persona in all Sandler’s comedies. Nice and polite whilst plagued with anger management issues but ends up with the girl anyway because of his charm. But fans looking for another Happy Gilmore will be disappointed. As Anderson himself describes it, it is more of ‘an art-house Adam Sandler film’.
Anderson tempers Sandler’s comedic talent to capture a career-defining performance as they create a character crippled with so many levels of mental anguish hidden inside himself that sometimes they erupt into violent rages. The result makes for restless viewing as we never know what is going to happen next. But Barry is so aware of his plight and embarrassed of himself we can’t help but root for his relationship with Lena (Emily Watson) who doesn’t seem to mind his awkwardness, instead patiently nurturing him to become more open and happy.
Now if only he hadn’t gotten entangled in an extortion racket (headed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) after he rang a sex line in search of a little affection, everything would be perfect. But his love for Lena provides newfound strength and he suddenly finds a use for all that pent up anger.
No spoilers though. Just know that if you can be as patient as Lena and tolerate the unending awkwardness – from the first baffling phone conversation to Barry’s mad dash to Lena’s apartment with a harmonium – you will be rewarded with a heart-warmingly cute romance that makes this love story alternative indeed.
9. The Time Traveler’s Wife
How do you shake up the classic sickly sweet love story? Give one of them a genetic disorder that sees him uncontrollably slipping through time…naked. Planning a date is pretty much impossible; never mind a life with your significant other. But Henry and Clare are so in love, they’re determined to give anything a shot.
This movie was scarred by polarised reviews with some people calling it a success while others condemned it for lacking depth and not doing the book justice. Nevertheless, it is an intricate twist on a classic that will tug at your heartstrings as it is inevitable (if not a little exhausting) that you will sympathise with the star-crossed lovers as they try frustratingly to sync up their lives. It is saved from mediocrity by the casting of Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams who put in committed and emotional performances as Henry and Clare. Without their believable chemistry, the film would have lacked any emotional weight.
All in all, The Time Traveler’s Wife makes for an entertaining enough movie experience that’s worth a watch if you’re after a chick flick with something a little different. And if the story doesn’t do it for you, there’s a frequently naked Eric Bana to keep you occupied. As the most melodramatic entry on the list, don’t worry fellas, the rest avoid the chick flick genre altogether.
This film is not one for the fainthearted and if you’re not familiar with Almodovar’s style, you may want to brace yourself. Nevertheless, this is a love story of sorts, just more the stuff of nightmares than dreams, especially for the censors. Two serial killers, one a female lawyer (Assumpta Serna) and the other an ex-bullfighter (Nacho Martinez), who are aroused by the act of murder end up unwittingly stalking each other and entering into a violent fetishist relationship. Meanwhile, a young Antonio Banderas tries to fight his overly religious upbringing and adopts Martinez as his mentor, leading him to rape and murder as a way of asserting his masculinity.
It may be difficult to digest and is not traditional in any sense of the word, but there is a darkly disturbing courtship between the two leading psychos and in a strange way, their respective fetishes complement each other in an alarmingly unexpected way. The movie reaches an appropriate climax when they consummate their relationship with the same violence and passion they bestow on their victims.
A stylishly seductive and surprisingly funny film about the darkest sides of human nature. You probably won’t want to accompany this with popcorn or watch it with your mother but it’s a fascinating contemplation on sex and violence.
Throw all expectations of movie romance clichés out the window before sitting down to watch this peculiar but moving love story. But don’t forget that’s exactly what it is, a love story. The assertion that there is somebody out there for everybody and the right person will help you be comfortable with yourself, no matter what.
When Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental institution, she tries to bury her impulse to harm herself and instead fit in to society by getting a job as a legal secretary. Her boss is the ruthlessly uptight and efficient attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader) who constantly belittles Lee for the tiniest mistakes. Instead of being offended, though, Lee seems to thrive in the hostile work environment, developing a crush on her boss and the fondness is mutual. As their relationship becomes more bizarre, they soon discover a surprising compatibility as they explore their deepest inner sadomasochistic desires.
As we watch the relationship flower, there’s something sweet in the way the two nurture each other’s insecurities. The film avoids cheap sleaze as it handles their relationship with a sensitivity that exhibits the trust and mutual acceptance the couple must share. Lee’s frustration at her attempts to feel ‘normal’ is entirely sympathetic and we can’t help but root for her. With an exceptional performance from both actors but especially Gyllenhaal in what was undoubtedly a challenging role, the final scenes depict complete love and affection for each other as Edward gives Lee a bath while she tells the audience it is the first time she has felt beautiful.
6. Notes On A Scandal
You’d be forgiven if you scoffed at the inclusion of this film on a list of love stories but all the tropes are there as an awkwardly obtuse love triangle spawns lust, jealousy and revenge in this skin-crawlingly brilliant psychological thriller. Judi Dench is exceptional as the sour-faced sociopath, Barbara, who longs for any kind of affection so much so that she habitually manifests completely one-sided relationships in her head, misconstruing an uncomfortable level of intimacy.
The victim of this unsettling affection is new teacher Sheba (Blanchett) whom Barbara also seems to simultaneously despise. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Sheba gets drawn into an impulsive and sordid affair with a pupil, Steven Connolly (played by the actual school-aged Andrew Simpson which only adds to the shocking impact of the relationship). When Barbara catches them in the midst of the kind of extracurricular activity that could land a teacher in prison, Sheba is trapped at the mercy of Barbara who decides to use this new information to lure Sheba into a false friendship.
Emotional blackmail and heartbreak ensue as it becomes apparent that Barbara wants a little more than just cups of tea from Sheba. Jealous of the lustful intimacy Sheba shares with Steven, Barbara sets about destroying everything as she slyly lets slip the details to other teachers and all hell breaks loose. With two phenomenal performances from Blanchett and Dench, specifically in an explosive exchange at the film’s climax, this is one twisted love story that will make your skin crawl.
This directorial debut from Terrence Malick makes for essential viewing as he delivers a masterclass in creating the perfect crime thriller. Based loosely on the Charles Starkweather murders, the film tells of an impressionable teenage girl, Holly (Sissy Spacek) who catches the attention of psychotic rebel wannabe Kit (Martin Sheen) and, after killing her father for trying to split them up, they embark on a crime spree together throughout South Dakota.
Whilst the film ultimately serves to depict their relationship as mutually destructive, it is allowed some genuinely romantic interludes as the two characters, especially Holly, get swept up in their heated romance. Holly’s idealised narrative voiceover sounds like it’s directly out of a romantic novel and the violence of the film is perforated with tender moonlit kisses and exclamations of unending love.
Martin Sheen delivers a dangerously charismatic performance as his Southern manners never abandon him, making his psychotic acts all the more chilling. It’s not difficult to imagine how Holly could get caught up in his charm and deluded self-assurance. Malick builds on this by capturing their journey with a dreamlike splendour and denying them the tragic, overly romanticised end that Bonnie and Clyde come to. As free and experimental as its protagonists, this film isn’t what you would consider a traditional love story, but the intoxicating infatuation is present throughout and leads to some dangerous atrocities.
4. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover
CAUTION: Do not watch this film if you value Michael Gambon as the wise and dignified Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. His portrayal as Albert (The Thief) is possibly one of the ugliest characters ever to be written and you will never see him in the same way again.
A voluptuous Helen Mirren plays with fire as she conducts an affair during meals at her gangster husband’s restaurant, aided by the Chef. At the table she is humiliated and tortured as much as her husband’s victims but in the toilets and pantries, she seeks comfort in an exquisite romance with a fellow diner from the restaurant. But in true Jacobean style, it does not end well as in the face of escalating violence, the truth all comes out and revenge spawns revenge in a stately final act.
It would be easy to be offended by this film’s monstrous exploration of excess and self-indulgence but the visual style and powerful performances are breathtakingly captivating. Michael Gambon as Albert is brilliantly repugnant and hideous. Decked in eye-popping Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, Mirren as the melancholy, adulterous Wife brings all the elegance to make this a powerfully tragic romance. With her solace snatched from her as abruptly as she discovers it, there’s no happy ending in sight. This gruesome medley of sex and death will not be for everybody but is a visceral and evocative love story nonetheless.
3. Brokeback Mountain
This is a beautifully passionate adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story by director Ang Lee, one of the industry’s more diverse artists. Set in the early 60s, the story tells of two farmhands (Gyllenhaal and Ledger) who take a job farming sheep in the isolated area of Brokeback Mountain. During the lonely months, they form an intimate bond that becomes a sexual relationship and, set against the idyllic backdrop of the great outdoors, we are gifted a tender and amorous romance.
Unfortunately though, it is short-lived as soon enough they must come down from the mountain and take up their expected roles in society. Unusually for a romantic drama, the couple actually spend a predominant portion of the rest of the film far apart from each other, instead engaging themselves in the grind of their newly established lives. The film transforms into a tragic elegy as the memory of their affair lingers. Jack (Gyllenhaal) is more reluctant to repress their passions while Ennis (Ledger) is the realist who readily buttons down his feelings to comply with society’s attitudes.
Lee’s film expertly explores the way regret paralyses these men’s lives and not only affects them but the lives of everyone around them. The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger proves to be one of the film’s greatest achievements as the chemistry between the two is what gives the story its power. They perfectly complement each other as the tragic lovers but it is especially Ledger’s frustrated and tortured performance as Ennis Del Mar, which was ground-breaking for the actor, that makes this film a triumph.
Max Fischer is a 15 year old student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy and loves every minute of it. He’s a poor scholar but a passionate advocate of the school’s extracurricular activities and after being threatened with expulsion, decides to refocus his academic efforts, that is, until he lays eyes on elementary school teacher, Rosemary Cross.
He tries to seduce her in unusual ways, including saving the Latin programme at Rushmore and attempting to build an aquarium in her honour. But, alas, there’s a spanner in the works. Max’s industrialist friend Herman Blume is as enamoured with Ms Cross and is obviously more appropriately aged. Let the childish antics ensue with hilarious outcomes.
This is a refreshingly eccentric high-school comedy from director/writer team Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson (yes, that Owen Wilson) and is sure to have you in stitches with its sharp dialogue that is full of quotable one-liners. Yet Max’s affection for Ms Cross also creates some surprisingly compassionate and poignant moments as he comes to realise it is a wholly unreciprocated love.
The casting is genius. In his breakout role, Jason Schwartzman is entirely convincing as the self-assured brat who is sure to annoy the hell out of some viewers. Bill Murray as his ridiculous adult companion going through a midlife crisis is comedic gold as he descends in to adolescence when retaliating to Max’s hostility. And Olivia Williams completes the absurd love triangle with a sensitivity that makes the guys’ infatuation entirely believable.
Overall, a clever and off-beat high-school comedy that avoids the obscenely ridiculous but instead captures the spirit of high-school infatuation. Passionate and spirited with overblown gestures that eventually explode before fizzling out of sight.
As the new recipient of the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, this film had to make an appearance on this list of alternative love stories and is arguably its most remarkable entry. Set in an unknown future time, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a withdrawn writer who is struggling to move past the heartbreak of his divorce. To soothe his pain, he decides to change his highly advanced operating system to the female voice. Enter Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).
Samantha helps Theodore reorganise his life. She gets him back on track and makes him happy again. Through long late-night conversations and contemplation of big life issues, the couple form a nurturing bond with an unlikely level of intimacy. What unfolds is a beautifully written and directed love story from Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) that will make you laugh. It’s a very obvious and intelligent satire on our current relationship with technology but there is more to it than that. It is also a genuine meditation on what love really is and hints at darker implications of this kind of reliance on technology. In a world where real human interaction is being rapidly replaced with social media, is it so absurd to think a man could fall in love with an advanced operating system designed to meet his every need?
This exploration is helped by very compelling performances from Phoenix and Johansson. Theodore seems completely closed up, initially incapable of forming any kind of meaningful relationship with anyone. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson was the perfect (albeit last minute) casting decision for the voice of Samantha. Her vocal performance achieves a magnificent range of emotion and mood, from curiosity to enjoyment to flirtatiousness, making her feel just as human if not more so than Theodore. With a strong supporting cast and a visual brilliance, this is one love story that will at once move you whilst also contemplate the deeper issues at the heart of the film.
So there you have it. If you’re bored of the usual boy meets girl and are looking for more interesting interpretations of finding our significant other, there’s more than enough here to get you started. Ranging from terrifying to touching with funny and tragic thrown in for good measure, a love story doesn’t have to be predictable. What do you consider to make a great love story? What are some other films that put a wonderful twist on love? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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