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The best non-romantic romance films to watch this Valentine’s Day

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cinematically speaking, Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. Sometimes you need to swerve the honeyed romantic visions of Nora Ephron (great as they are), hit pause on ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and get stuck into something gritty. Something where the people don’t necessarily live happily ever after. Where that scrap of the Titanic definitely doesn’t have room for two.

If you’re having that kind of Valentine’s week, ‘The Lobster’ is the perfect antidote. Yorgos Lanthimos’s dark comedy is set in an alt-reality where Colin Farrell is given 45 days to get a romantic partner or find himself turned into an animal. It’s a funny, vinegary comment on the pressure society puts on people to couple up that’s mirrored by Netflix gem ‘Atlantics’. In Mati Diop’s terrific magical realist romance, a young Senegalese woman is ushered into a joyless marriage after the love of her life leaves by sea. It’ll put those unanswered texts into perspective.

‘The Lobster’. Photograph: Despina Spyrou

Long before Tinder, ‘Swingers’ offered a sorta road map to the often deeply awkward realities of men dating. Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn goose around LA trying to impress women (aka ‘beautiful babies’) in flagrantly pre-#MeToo fashion. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but as a depiction of being young, dumb and… well, mainly just dumb, it takes some beating.

On the female side of the equation, Spike Lee’s debut film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ shows true love as definitely bottom on a young Brooklynite’s list of priorities. Flipping things again, ‘Weekend’ demonstrates how connection can arrive like a hurricane then slip away again just as quickly.

‘Weekend’. Photograph: Peccadillo Pictures

The next one – and bear with me here – is Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’. It’s almost no one’s idea of a date movie, yet there’s something deeply affecting in its depiction of a loving relationship under pressure. The sex scene is an all-timer too, with a deeply English attention given to the important getting-dressed-afterwards part that so many Hollywood films forget about.

There are many, many more unsentimental looks at love to discover, from ‘The Apartment’ and ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ to ‘Blue Valentine’ and ‘Take This Waltz’.

But for the ultimate anti-Valentine’s viewing experience, ‘Closer’ has your back. A film that manages to make Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen and Julia Roberts close to undesirable, it’s a tart deconstruction of desire and dysfunction in the big city. It should be sexy – there’s so much shagging going on, it’s basically Tetris with penises – but in the end you’ll be so exhausted by the idea of interacting with another human, let alone falling in love, that a night in with your slippers won’t seem so bad.

Looking for something with more schmaltz? Check out our selection of the 100 best romances of all time

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