7 Anti-Valentine’s Day Movies That Remind You Love Can Suck

7 Anti-Valentine’s Day Movies That Remind You Love Can Suck
Image: Warner Bros
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Is Valentine’s Day a beautiful tribute to one of the most fundamental parts of the human experience, or a made-up holiday designed to make you spend money you don’t have on candy nobody wants? Perhaps it’s both, but there’s no question many Feb. 14 rituals are outdated and limiting, proceeding from the assumption that everyone wants a romantic relationship — usually a cis, straight one. Mere greeting cards for gay couples are hard to come by; finding any that celebrate other types relationship is pretty much impossible. (Note to card companies: polyamory means more people in a relationship, and thus more cards to sell.)

Which is all to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ignoring the holiday, or even hating on it a little. And if you do either, you can still mark the occasion with a film that will remind you romances often go wrong, and that love can actually be kind of terrible: toxic, misguided, all-consuming in a bad way. These are movies to watch alone, or with your partner (who is a realist).

Nightmare Alley (2021)

While director Guillermo del Toro’s last Oscar contender, The Shape of Water, was something of a fairytale romance, Nightmare Alley represents a turn down the darkest alleys of old-school noir. The 1947 original is a particularly nasty bit of business, as is William Lindsay Gresham crime novel upon which both films are based. The remake os very much the kind of movie that they don’t make anymore — big stars in a high-concept dark drama — and one in which any lessons learned are learned way, way too late. Relationships in various permutations blossom between characters played by Toni Colette, Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Cate Blanchett and, as brilliant as those actors all are, none of their onscreen entanglements end well (and most end in tragedy). It’s enough to make even the most die-hard romantic think twice before trusting someone with their heart.

In theatres now.

Waiting to Exhale (1995)

Four supportive friends (played by all-stars Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine) in not-great relationships are all holding their breaths waiting for the perfect man. There’s no tragedy here, but, by the end, each comes to realise there are many different paths to lasting happiness, most of which don’t involve waiting around for a dude to make things right.

Where to stream: Disney+

A Star is Born (2018)

Each of the four versions of this particular story (dating back to 1937) carries a similar message. All involving up-and-coming female entertainers who are at first supported, and then hamstrung by the substance-dependent men with whom they’ve fallen in love. In the most recent take, it’s Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper who set off on a long and intoxicating downward spiral, and it ends no better for them than it did for Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Or Judy Garland and James Mason. Or Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. There’s virtue in standing by the one you love, but the message is clear: Even the most epic love can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change.

Where to stream: Binge

La La Land (2016)

Less tragic than A Star is Born, but still poignant (and similarly lauded at the Academy Awards), La La Land begins as a romantic musical fairytale about a talented musician (Ryan Gosling) and the aspiring actress (Emma Stone) with whom he falls in love. Ultimately, their divergent ambitions drive them apart — and though it’s sad, their choices come off as entirely reasonable. But also sad.

Where to stream: Apple TV

The Favourite (2018)

Romance and politics rarely mix well, and love without some degree of equality between the partners is just as often doomed to fail. And so here, in the story of a historical love triangle between the tempestuous and flighty Queen Anne, her powerful confidant Sarah Churchill, and impoverished courtier Abigail Masham, we see how dramatically wrong relationships can go. Anne has all the power, ostensibly, but none of the will to use it. Lady Sarah wields massive political power thanks to her influence, and Abigail weaponizes her sexual appeal in order to displace her rivals. It’s all a cleverly filmed and darkly funny tangle, but hardly makes a case for love that conquers all — it’s the one form of power nobody here has much interest in.

Where to stream: Disney+ 

The War of the Roses (1989)

There are few movies that make a case for staying single quite as well as this over-the-top divorce fantasy, which imagines the breakdown of a marriage as an escalating series of physical and psychological battles nearly as dramatic as the historic conflicts that the title references. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner play one of cinema’s all-time worst couples, ably assisted by lawyer-friend Danny DeVito (who also directs this macabre cartoon), and it’s all deliciously anti-love.

Where to stream: Disney+

Blue Valentine (2010)

Another portrait of a disintegrating relationship, this one lacking the dark comedy of War of the Roses and, instead, going for the gut punch with a nonlinear narrative that bounces between moments in the doomed love story of Cindy and Dean, played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Though it received a rather inexplicable initial NC-17 rating, it managed to do reasonably well at the box office, and earned Williams an Oscar nomination.

Where to stream: Binge

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