When most people hear “romance” and “film” together, the immediate thought is rom-coms. Yet, rom-coms aren’t the only films that can deal with the trials and tribulations of love. In fact, some of the relationships that tug our heartstrings the most come from some unexpected films. 500 Days of Summer, for example, actively challenges what we know about and are used to in romantic films. In honor of the film turning 10 on July 17, we’ve compiled some of our favorite unconventional romances to grace the big screen.
Being single can be tough, especially when it seems that everyone else is paired up already. Yorgos Lanthimos’ black comedy The Lobster takes this dread about being alone to the extreme. In this dystopian comedy, you must be paired up with someone in order to return back to society. If you don’t, you either live the rest of your single life in the woods or become an animal of your choosing. Literally. Great actors like Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz help us laugh at this bizarre, anti-single world. The cast’s deadpan delivery and clever dialogue add levity to the film, reassuring us that being single in the real world isn’t that bad. At least we don’t get turned into lobsters when a string of dates don’t go well.
Lars and the Real Girl
We all face hardships, and have different ways of dealing with them. For Lars, the preferred coping mechanism is dating a doll named Bianca. Although at first jarring, Lars and the Real Girl warms up, and becomes a really touching love story. No, it isn’t about one man’s pining for an object. Instead, it’s about the love a community can harbor. Notebook heartthrob Ryan Gosling plays the titular Lars, who through Bianca, is able to process his issues and get better.
This transformation happens thanks to his small-town community, who treats Bianca and the relationship as real. When Bianca falls ill, Lars is able to move on and start his life anew. Lars and the Real Girl isn’t your average romance story, but it’s not because of the Bianca the doll. The film is much more concerned with the love between an individual and their community.
What if you fell in love with your Alexa, or Siri? Spike Jonze’s Her explores this reality, tackling the emotional roller coaster of a relationship between a human and an AI operating system. Joaquin Phoenix plays the reserved, recently divorced Theodore who falls for Samantha, his operating system, played by Scarlett Johansson. Things start out great, but like any relationship, theirs begin to have obstacles.
As Samantha evolves, so does the relationship and their dependence on one another. Her is really about how people change when they’re in love, and what that means for the relationship. We also think it’s a good warning about the consequences of dating your computer’s operating system.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind attempts to answer a very difficult question: do soulmates exist? Shy and awkard Joel (Jim Carrey) and eccentric and free-spirited Clementine test this hypothesis out in a near-future setting. Their romance is one of extreme highs and lows, leading both characters to erase memories of them dating. What results is a subjective, fuzzy narrative that creates a history of their relationship, based on Joel’s memories.
Joel tries to hold tightly onto these good memories, but they get erased forever. Based on how much he loved Clementine, who’s to say they won’t be drawn to one another again? The film doesn’t provide clear answers to the soulmate conundrum, but that’s okay. An unsure answer is most fitting for the film’s complicated love story.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s monster romance between a mute woman and fish creature is a modern day fairytale. Two outsiders from different backgrounds meet and deeply bond without words. Elisa’s compassion for the fishman, as well as the monster’s curious nature, convinces us that these two are meant to be. The film is an incredible exercise in cinema, showing a romance unfolding in the pure, visual form.
What further sells Elisa and her fishy beau’s connection is the incredible team behind The Shape of Water. Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones both deliver incredible, moving performances as the titular pair. The film’s set design and cinematography paints 1960s Baltimore in dreamy, aquatic hues. Guillermo del Toro’s monstrous and whimsical touch is on full display, complete with a black and white dance montage. The result? A monster film where the monster keeps the girl.
The Lady Eve
For con artist Jean Harrington, the plan was simple: seduce Pike Ale heir Charles Pike to gain his boozy fortune. What wasn’t in the plan? Falling for Pike herself. She also didn’t anticipate him dumping her, either. Lucky for Jean, her con artist skills come in handy when she disguises herself as the Lady Eve in order to win him back.
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, The Lady Eve is a screwball comedy that pokes fun at how we fall in love. Stanwyck is particularly hilarious at both Eve and Jean, deftly balancing both characters while letting us in on the joke. Fonda’s meek and oblivious Charles sets himself us for some tortuously fun moments. When the two final get together after all the hilarity, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Turns out love can be the greatest con job of them all.
500 Days of Summer
500 Days of Summer tells us at the beginning that it wasn’t a love story. Yet, it’s really hard to not read it as one at first. Using a nonlinear timeline, audiences join Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he makes sense of his relationship with previous flame Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Using cute daydream montages and quirky Ikea dates, the film reminds us that we often remember only the good parts of dating. Only until after the fact, like Tom, do we realize the complete truth behind our relationship.
The film is really about how difficult it is to understand ours and other’s romantic intentions. Besides that, it’s also an example of how our desires can warp our perspective on a relationship. Much like the film’s contrasting expectations versus reality sequence, the real truth about love is hard to swallow sometimes.
Sometimes, the best love stories are the ones we least expect. This isn’t an exhaustive list of our favorites, but they stick out the most as films that touched our heartstrings in unexpected ways. Next time you’re feeling a little unsure about love, watching one of these films may help any lovesick blues you have. At a minimum, it’ll remind you there’s someone—or some fish—out there waiting to love ya.
Images: Fox Searchlight, A24, MGM, Annapurna Pictures, Focus Features, Paramount