With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, what better time to watch movies about love? Whether you have company (romantic or platonic) or are just spending the holiday treating yourself, here are six romantic films that you should check out.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
Director: Cheryl Dunye
Plot: An aspiring filmmaker, Cheryl, documents her search for The Watermelon Woman, a Black actress from the 40s who was never credited by name.
To start us off is the least romantic but arguably the most philosophical film on this list. It balances various themes such as African-American culture, both lesbian and interracial relationships, friendship, and the distortion of truth over time. As Cheryl progresses in her search for the Watermelon Woman’s identity, she realizes that this journey is much more personal than she expected and that the Watermelon Woman had a rich and complex life off of the screen. With a budget of only $300,000, the simplicity of the set decoration and cinematography paired with the 90s music of the time gives the film a warm, familiar home video feel. Although The Watermelon Woman is nearing thirty years old and is incredibly dated (not necessarily in a bad way), this movie feels like it could have been released yesterday. Plus it’s the first feature-length film ever directed by a Black lesbian. So watch it!
Streaming: Hulu (Premium Subscription)
Straight Up (2019)
Director: James Sweeney
Plot: Todd, a house sitter with OCD (and homosexual tendencies) explores his sexuality with Rory, a struggling actress. Together they find solace in finally being understood by another person.
If you’re looking for a film that challenges the definition of what love is, stop looking because James Sweeney has prepared it on a silver platter. Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, Straight Up’s stiffly shot and stylistically composed camera work that plays as shallow in other contemporary indie films thankfully has intention behind these decisions. Todd and Rory have a relationship like no other. They’re abstinent while not necessarily asexual, so their romance has a Hays Code feel as Sweeney intended. The staged blocking of actors and the aforementioned cinematography is reminiscent of a time when promiscuous material was nowhere to be found on cable TV. For the unapologetically offbeat movie-watchers, this one’s for you.
Streaming: $3.99 to rent on YouTube
Ever After (1998)
Director: Andy Tennant
Plot: In this Cinderella retelling, Danielle runs into the prince multiple times but struggles to hide her true identity as an orphaned servant to her stepmother.
Yes yes, Cinderella retellings are overdone, but this one deserves your watch (or rewatch). For the feminist theorists out there, Ever After is a treat to dissect through that perspective alone. With the popular 90s heroine who is independent and doesn’t need a man, the classic romance tropes are hard to intertwine with this ideology. The writers turned a quiet, complacent Disney princess into an adventurous and feisty human rights activist who can (literally) sweep the man off his feet, instead of the other way around. The notion of a feminist, contemporary interpretation of a classic story should be enough to entice you to stream it.
Streaming: Hulu (Premium Subscription)
Director: Adrienne Shelly
Plot: Jenna, a pie-making waitress, faces an unwanted pregnancy while in an abusive marriage.
Charming is the first word to come to mind when discussing this film. Each bit of narration, the naturally lit shots, the acting – everything about Waitress feels personable (personal, too), humorous, and bluntly honest. It creates a unique atmosphere, mixing this charm with heavy topics such as poverty, domestic abuse, and an overall unsatisfactory disposition towards life. Not to mention, the chemistry between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter is both sweet and exciting which is probably the most important factor of a romance movie. But if this couple’s not for you, there’s even more love in the air. Although many of us are likely to know how this story ends, what is more romantic than loving yourself?
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Maid in Manhattan (2002)
Director: Wayne Wang
Plot: Single mother and hotel maid, Marisa, accidentally charms a politician prior to his senatorial election.
At long last, it's the it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good movie! Maid in Manhattan relies one-hundred percent too heavily on the beauty of Jennifer Lopez and the adorable-ness of a young Tyler Posey. And dare it be said? Voldemort can, like, get it in this movie, too. I limited myself to a single romantic comedy that has a transformation sequence, and, with Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” playing over Marisa abusing hotel resources, how could I not choose this one? Other than that, there’s not much to say. It follows the rom-com formula beautifully, and it makes my dad cry every time.
Streaming: HBO Max
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Director: Rob Reiner
Plot: The will-they-won't-they story for the ages.
This is my favorite movie. Period. Send tweet. I just had to feature it on this list. If the last movie was a comfort movie, this one wraps you up in a blanket, makes you a hot drink of your choice, and tells you that you’re the prettiest person in the world. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have such electric, compelling chemistry that, even if the writing was terrible or the visuals were bland, then it would still be an amazing watch. It should be noted that I vehemently believe that most fanfictions can be traced back to When Harry Met Sally. It’s strangers-to-friends-to-lovers slow burn excellence. If this movie doesn’t make you believe in love, I don’t know what will.
Streaming: HBO Max