The Bitter Chocolate Binge:

Perfect Movies to Watch on Valentine’s Day When You’re Single

It has only been a month into the new year when a feeling of dread falls over you. You wake one morning and look at the calendar next to your bed. It is already February, which means one thing: Valentine’s Day is coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it. When it arrives, the sun shines brighter, birds chirp everywhere you go and, no matter where you look, couples are holding hands. It will be awful… Okay, okay, so maybe we are being a bit melodramatic but the truth is that Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a downer. It’s a holiday that seems engineered to be an annual reminder that you are still single.

This year, we at the Chester County Multimedia Department have concocted our own batch of movies, hand-selected to salve any of your Valentine’s Day woes. From perfect break-up comedies to those cautionary relationship horror flicks, we guarantee that when you are finished with our watch list, you will feel great about your single status.  So, this February 14th, put down the traditional sugary picks and try a marathon of something decidedly more bitter, but oh so enjoyable!  

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Topping off our list is a real nail-biter of a film that may make you swear off going on dates for a while. Fatal Attraction follows the story of a married man (Michael Douglas in the prime of his 80’s movie star run) who has a weekend affair with a new co-worker anmed Alex (Glenn Close). What begins as a passionate fling soon unfolds into a pulse pounding fight for his life when Alex refuses to let him go . This film was nominated for six Academy Awards including: Best Director (Adrian Lyme), Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Anne Archer), and Best Actress (Glenn Close, in a career-making, powerhouse performance). With the passage of time, Close’s performance as spurned lover Alex Forrest has only become more iconic. At both times sympathetic and frightening, Close turns in a portrayal of someone so clearly wronged that your heart would break for her, if it wasn’t busy pounding in terror. Often-imitated but never duplicated, Fatal Attraction kick started the late 80’s-early 90’s wave of erotic psychological thrillers, but arguably still holds its place as gold-standard of the genre. 

The First Wives Club (1996)

Sometimes what you really need to recover from a relationship ending is your friends. While divorce can feel like the ultimate end, it really isn’t, and as the ladies of the The First Wives Club will teach you, when it comes to love and happiness, “Don’t get mad. Get Everything.” This 1996 box office smash is headlined by three Hollywood heavy hitters at their absolute best! Goldie Hawn, Diane Lane, and Bette Miller star as old, college friends who have lost touch over the years but are brought back together by the death of their mutual friend. Reunited, they find that they all share a common problem: their husbands have all left them for much younger women. So what are three divorced ladies to do when their husbands take them for granted and coldly cut them out? The answer is simple: exact their vengeance until they get what they are owed. Hawn, Lane, and Midler have an electric chemistry that jumps off the screen. This feel good comedy will remind you that happy endings don’t need romance, so long as you have your girls by your side. So call up your best pals and make it a raucous movie night with The First Wive’s Club!

Down with Love (2003)

Do you think you may be a bit too cynical for all this love stuff? Do you think that love is nothing more than a chemical reaction similar to the dopamine kick your brain gets from eating chocolate?  If so, then 2003’s period-piece, rom-com Down with Love is the movie for you! First of all, this is not your average period piece. Director Peyton Reed doesn’t merely set this movie in the 1960’s, he styles the entire film to look like it was MADE in the 1960’s! Rene Zellweger stars as aspiring author Barbara Novak whose debut book “Down with Love” advocates for female independence. Novak’s book presents her philosophy that women should free themselves from the shackles of love and enjoy commitment-free sex “the same way that men do.” This immediately puts her in the sights of notorious womanizer and writer of Know Magazine: Catcher Block (played with bombastic delight by Ewan McGregor). Block adopts a false identity to woo Novak and get her to abandon her beliefs so that he can go back to his womanizing ways before any women get wise to his scheme. What ensues is a cat and mouse game that uses all of the familiar tropes of 60’s rom coms in a loving, tongue-in-cheek tribute. All of the performances are expertly in step with the acting style of the era and the chemistry between McGregor and Zellweger is dynamite! This is, hands down, one of the most colorful, zany, and loving pastiches of the genre ever done!

Fear (1996)

When it comes to scary, unhinged boyfriends, David McCall in the 1996 film Fear, is one for the record books. What starts as an idyllic YA romance between sixteen-year old Nicole Walker (Reese Withersoon) and the handsome and charming David McCall (Mark Wahlberg), quickly turns into a nightmare. Though he manages to charm the rest of her family, Nicole’s father doesn’t trust David’s motives. This instinct proves true as David soon turns from a seemingly normal boyfriend into a possessive and manipulative psychopath who will stop at nothing to have Nicole all to himself. Director James Foley gives Fear some cinematic flourishes that help to elevate it from standard fair of the genre. In particular, the film’s early scenes portraying David and Nicole’s wooing period masterfully conveys the overwhelming rush of young love. As vivid and powerful as the speeding rollercoaster they share on their first date, Fear presents love as an uncontrollable ride, both exciting and terrifying as the audience and Nicole brace themselves for whatever waits around the next turn. 

There are many films that play on the story tropes of an obsessive stalker, driven by their warped perception of love (Play Misty for MeSwimfan). However, the majority of these stories cast women in the role of the dangerous pursuer, hell-bent on obtaining the object of their affection. It is Fear’s gender-reversal of this relationship dynamic that both: sets it apart from its peers and also makes it feel like a far more accurate depiction of toxic relationships. Because of this, a warning may be advisable for anyone who may be triggered by portrayals of abusive relationships. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Sometimes we need to see how ridiculous love and misery can make us look and learn to laugh at ourselves. If you have ever been the one in your group of friends moping over a big breakup, then you may find yourself connecting a lot to the journey that Jason Segel’s character finds himself on in the hilarious 2008 comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The story follows Peter Brenner (Segel), the perpetual plus-one boyfriend of rising television actress Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell). Brenner doesn’t care that he is a relative nobody to the press, because he is blissfully happy and in love with Sarah. That bliss is instantly ripped away when Sarah breaks up with him, quickly moving on to a very public relationship with the mega famous rockstar Aldous Snow (Russell Brand in a debut role). To escape the constant reminders of his ex’s new relationship, Peter takes what was once their planned vacation trip to Hawaii by himself. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that Sarah and her new boyfriend Aldous had the same idea and show up at the exact same resort, in the very next room. If you have ever gone through the grieving period of a break up, you will find plenty to laugh at, relate to, and maybe in the end, put old feelings into perspective.  

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

If a good cry is what you are looking for then the 2017 Oscar nominee, Call Me By Your Name may be just what the doctor ordered. Set in 1983, this coming of age story follows 17 year old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet in his breakout performance) who is spending his summer with his parents in rural Northern Italy due to his father’s work as a professor of archaeology. Elio spends his summer with his childhood friends Chiara and Marzia, the latter of whom he has begun a romantic relationship with. When Elio’s father invites 24 year old American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to spend the summer with their family while helping with his academic paper, Elio becomes infatuated with the handsome stranger. As the two grow closer over the summer Elio is awakened to his own sexuality and experiences the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time in his life. Call Me By Your Name is a story about self-discovery, love, and most of all: experiencing your first true heartbreak. 

Death Becomes Her (1992)

When it comes to love triangles, there are few are as fun to watch as the A-list trio of Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis in Robert Zemeckis’ pitch black comedy Death Becomes Her. The film centers around the rivalry of two lifelong frenemies: narcissistic Broadway actress Madeline Ashton (Streep) and mousy, struggling writer Helen Sharp (Hawn). Helen has always lived in Madeline’s shadow, never having much to call her own, while Madeline has never known anything that she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) eventually have. That includes Helen’s spineless plastic surgeon fiancé, Ernest Menville (Willis) whom Madeline immediately snatches for herself. When Helen returns (years later), she has completely transformed into a beautiful and successful writer with a plan to steal Ernest back. Her secret? A magical potion that has granted her with eternal youth. Envious of her former friend’s beauty, Madeline takes the potion as well but soon finds out there are rather “unpleasant” side effects. The two women’s rivalry over the pathetic Ernest crescendoes to a knock-down, drag-out fight, heightening to a finale that features absurd levels of loony tunes inspired action!

This movie is truly a feast for the eyes with incredible direction from accomplished film maker Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit?), hilarious performances from all three stars who are at the top of their game, and special effects that look fantastic still to this day! It is fascinating to watch Willis, in particular, who plays a role so against type and does it so well, that it’s almost a shame he never does it again in his career. Death Becomes Her is a comedy that starts as a revenge plot, all centered around a man who is, pointedly, rather unremarkable. It is very transparent that this rivalry has very little to do with Ernest and speaks much louder volumes of how much each woman is concerned about the other’s perception of their life. In the end, it is an oddly sweet story about female friendship and how aging gracefully is over-rated when you have a friend to age poorly with.  

Midsommar (2019)

There is no movie that captures the essence of a break-up quite like 2019’s hit horror film, Midsommar. While the plot chronicles the end of a dying relationship, the horrors that the characters encounter along the way serve as an allegory for the emotional experience of a break-up. At the very beginning of the film we are introduced to the relationship between Dani and her increasingly distant boyfriend, Christian. It’s clear that this relationship is on its last legs, as Christian and his friends seem all too eager for him to split up with Dani before taking their trip to Sweden to attend a fabled Midsommar celebration. His plan is immediately aborted after Dani experiences a horrific tragedy that leaves Christian as the closest thing she has left to a family. Now, due to tragic circumstance, the two are stuck together: Dani, desperately clinging to Christian out of fear of being alone and Christian, trapped by his own guilt that leaving her now would make him an awful person. Much to the dismay of his friends, Dani tags along with Christian’s group to Midsommar; a pagan summer solstice festival that takes place once-every-ninety-years. There, they are greeted by the members of a secluded culture who have odd and mysterious customs, undocumented by the outside world. What begins as a spring vacation soon turns into a nightmare with the group growing fearful of the increasingly disturbing rituals, which they are expected to partake in.

What is so impressive about the horror of Midsommar is that it eschews the traditional visual tropes of the genre in favor of its sunny, idyllic setting. This is not simply a stylistic experiment, existing to impress fans of the genre; it’s a choice which reflects larger themes in the story. Springtime is the season of rebirth and the film places this idea front and center as the warm imagery of colorful foliage beckons Dani out of the bleak winter that was her misery and offers her a chance to be reborn. In the end, Midsommar crescendoes to a climax that is simultaneously horrifying and inspiring! If you like your chocolate (and movies) bitter sweet, then this is the perfect break-up movie for you!

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Three, previously married and now single best friends (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon) commiserate over the sexual repression they feel living in their conservative town of Eastwick. After a night of drinks where the three friends collectively paint the picture of their ideal man, a mysterious and eccentric stranger named Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) rolls into town. Though rude, brazen, and not traditionally handsome, Van Horne manages to seduce each of them, leading to their renewed sexual, emotional, and MAGICAL liberation as each begins exhibiting strange powers. Are these three friends being blessed or cursed? Either way, one thing is for sure: the town of Eastwick will never be the same again… 

Directed with a keen eye by auteur film-maker George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), The Witches of Eastwickis a wild romp of a movie, carried by the electric performances of all four of its stars. This is a movie about finding the empowerment in yourself and the magic that exists between best friends. This is another perfect movie for a slumber party with your best friends!

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Boy oh boy, love can sure make us do funny things. It can also make us blind to some serious red flags in a significant other that would send anyone else running for the hills. If any of this is sounding familiar, then you may more easily forgive the lead character of the 2013 French Erotic Thriller, Stranger by the Lake. This movie follows a man named Franck who frequents a nude beach which is a regular cruising destination for gay men. When Franck meets the handsome and charming Michael he is instantly attracted to him and soon-after the two start up a romantic relationship. One night Franck believes that he witnesses Michael drowning another man in the lake, but finds himself still unable to untangle himself from his attraction and growing love for the stranger. As dead bodies keep turning up on the beach and signs continue to point to Michael as the killer, the movie investigates the more dangerous side of infatuation and passion. Love can truly make fools off us all, but if we aren’t careful, it may turn us into something far worse.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003)

One of the most painful parts of any break-up is the post break-up period. Someone who has become a central part of your life is suddenly gone and their absence becomes all that you can think about. You try moving on without them but the memories you’ve made together keep weighing on your mind, bringing you nothing but heartache. If only there was an easy way to forget them; a way where you could skip this painful period of grieving and get back to your life…

Finishing out our list of films is a bitter-sweet, high-concept comedy which asks the question: “If you could erase the memory of someone, would you do it?” Born from the brilliant mind of Charlie Kauffman and the visual imagination of Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows a couple who undergoes a procedure which promises to do just that!

The movie begins after the painful breakup of colorful extrovert Clementine and sensitive introvert Joel (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey unlike you have ever seen them before). Still reeling from their recent split, Joel discovers that his ex-girlfriend Clementine has undergone an experimental procedure to erase all her memories of him. Heartbroken and spiteful, Joel decides to undergo the very same procedure, forever erasing his memories of her. Unfortunately, it isn’t until after the process starts that Joel realizes he doesn’t want to forget Clementine. What ensues is an adventure inside of Joel’s own mind as he and his memory of Clementine desperately try to outrun the memory technicians before she no longer exists.

This movie is as genuine and profound as it is off-beat and entertaining. Both Winslet and Carrey portray characters that are the complete antithesis to the types of roles they are typically known for and do so with such exceptional skill it’s hard to argue against these performances as career bests for either. Screenwriter Charlie Kauffman delivers his trademark quirky brand of humor as well as his dependably rich characters while Michel Gondry’s directorial flare adds levity and humor, even in the film’s saddest moments. As Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shows, our memories and experiences make us who we are, and to wish away a memory of someone is to wish away a part of ourself. 

So this Valentine’s Day, make a movie night out of our “Bitter Chocolate Binge” list and take solace in remembering that relationships aren’t all flowers and chocolates.

By Eric

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