There’s something for everyone this year at The Missing Slate, from die-hard romantics to the grumpiest of cynics. Whether you’re spending the day by yourself or with your significant other, it’ll be richer in the company of one of our team’s Valentine’s Day picks.
Paul Thomas Anderson, Punch Drunk Love
Tom Nixon, Senior Film Editor
If nothing else compels you to watch Punch Drunk Love this Valentine’s Day, how about a deliciously aggressive cameo from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the mastermind behind a sleazy phone-sex scam? Showcasing the great man’s willingness to embody even the most peripheral roles with monstrous intensity, it serves as an amusing alternative to his heavier performances, most of which drop like a piano (or harmonium?) while his loss remains so raw.
‘Course, the star of Paul Thomas Anderson’s fourth feature couldn’t be further from Hoffman in reputation. Adam Sandler, AKA America’s favourite everymanchild, unexpectedly delivers what might be construed as a rare “serious” performance until, somewhere along the way, you notice that he isn’t really doing anything different. Anderson’s first foray into expressionist territory after a couple of Scorsese-fied ensembles bears comparison to the likes of Lewis, Tashlin and Tati, but Punch Drunk Love seems designed specifically to deconstruct his actor’s much-maligned persona; the casting choice never seems unintuitive amid these colour-coordinated widescreen compositions, jittering and popping between childlike spontaneity and uniform drudgery.
Blowing up the terrors and hungers of a country that makes icons of men like Sandler, Punch Drunk Love is no less a warped myth of America than There Will Be Blood or The Master. It re-interprets Sandler’s comic tics as defense mechanisms, his outbursts are borne of familiar frustrations, his obnoxiousness is mere social ineptitude. His rage is impotent, his work suffocating, even his dreams are pathetic. Still, the film isn’t so uncomfortable a scold as Jody Hill’s knowingly pathological Seth Rogen-vehicle Observe and Report; its empathy for character and viewer alike is never in doubt. This is an optimistic love story, after all; one that demonstrates how disturbing it is to be trapped in our own heads and systematised lives, and how so much of our cinema is an inept substitute for the romantic connections we truly crave, but insists upon a happy ending nonetheless.
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Jay Sizemore, Film Editor
It’s Valentine’s Day and that means everyone is obligated to feel romantic and bubbly about their significant other, otherwise the greeting card industry may collapse. What better way to celebrate this materialistic manifestation of contrived emotion than to watch a movie meant to enhance these feelings through sheer audience manipulation by way of Hollywood formula? I’m being facetious of course, and it is all a ploy to appear more heartless than I am. Seriously, when it comes to movies, I’m more easily manipulated than a four-year-old.
So, what’s the ultimate love movie? When I think of this subject, I automatically spring to my all-time favorite romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally. It takes the formula invented by the also timeless It Happened One Night, and perfects it with a sprawling story of two people meant for each other but unable to recognize this fact due to their long-standing friendship. When they finally do have a romantic encounter, things rapidly get too awkward to handle, and it is a joy to watch them make silly mistakes that only postpone the inevitable.
More recently, my favourite romantic comedy has to be Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell magically pairs Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in this beautiful story about the triumph of love over mental illness. As Amy Adams’ character so deftly observes in the recent film Her, “love is a socially acceptable form of insanity,” and I can’t think of another film that so perfectly captures its dysfunctional nature. It’s incredible fun, heartwarming, and surprisingly realistic to observe how Cooper and Lawrence’s characters connect to each other in ways that will ultimately define each of them beyond their own personal impairments or experiences. I’m convinced this movie will hold up over time, rewatched by people year after year to rekindle the sense of joy they felt when they first watched it, and to remember what it feels like to fall in love, because usually it sneaks up on you when you are least prepared.
Stan Brakhage, Wedlock House: An Intercourse
Chuck Williamson, Film Editor
A canonical work from the American avant-garde, Stan Brakhage’s Wedlock House: An Intercourse takes as its subject the uncertainties and unfamiliar rhythms of young married life: the quarrels and pensive stares, the tense moments of silence punctured by bouts of desperate lovemaking. It begins with a negative image of two lovers (Brakhage and his wife Jane) sharing a pre-coital embrace, a primal expression of love and tenderness replayed from multiple (and increasingly telescoped) shots and angles. These are bodies stripped bare and engaged in “intercourse,” their limbs linked in a gesture of erotic repose. Brakhage intercuts these scenes with expressionistic flashes from a domestic purgatory: the phantasmagoric interiors of a post-nuptial home, where newlyweds peer out at one another through the darkness as if playing a game of gothic horror peekaboo. It is a claustrophobic space shrouded in chiaroscuro lighting and impenetrable shadow, where a single fluttering light strobes through their closed quarters like the bulb of a prison searchlight — appropriate, considering the potential double meaning of “wedlock.” Sexual intimacy soon curdles into fear and wordless apprehension, as Brakhage and Jane share silent candlelit dinners and gaze at one another through an abyss of inky shadow.
But Brakhage continually returns to that original moment of intimacy and comfort, where naked limbs twine and twist together in an almost covetous gesture. We witness their union in a non-linear fashion; preemptory embrace and penetration occur and recur without any guiding causality. Brakhage renders their interlocking bodies into visual abstractions; extreme close-ups of thighs, arms, chests, and genitals become indecipherable smears, wet paint on a canvas. We can only concentrate on the texture of skin and pubic hair, the defamiliarised movement of joints and muscles, the play of light and shadow. The mysteries of love remain inexpressible, terrifying — and wonderful.
Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Ghausia Rashid Salam, Articles Editor
It’s that horrid time of the year. That odious day when too many people try to shame you for preferring to plan a solitary future for yourself, rather than one burdened with compromising for a significant other all your life. No, I’m not bitter; I just don’t like people. At all.
So how will I spend my not-particularly-special day? I’m settling down to watch Blue is the Warmest Colour for possibly the sixth time. But the pick isn’t random, it’s quite in defiance of the heteronormativity associated with Valentine’s Day. I’m also not a fan of romance on television or film, because it’s ridiculously unrealistic. I’ve seen great romances play out around me of course, but the exaggeration on film and television annoys me, especially the perfect happily-ever-afters. Blue Is the Warmest Colour is the exact opposite of all that; it’s about love, and not heteronormative love either, and Adele winds up lonely and saddened by the happiness around her; as heartbreaking as it is, despite how selfish she is, it’s also something you won’t see in mainstream romantic movies, i.e. a not-very-happy ending. And that’s what makes it real; the fact that sometimes, your epic love story doesn’t exist, and the reality is heartbreaking and difficult to live with. That’s what I love about the movie the most; how real it is, compared to what you would normally see.
If you’re someone who’s aware of their hetero privilege and has a significant other, do yourselves a favour, and refrain from pandering to commercialism. Instead, snuggle up on the couch, download a torrent of Blue Is the Warmest Colour to flip off the system, and have the best Valentine’s Day you could possibly have.
Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
Mahnoor Yawar, Deputy Articles Editor
Sure, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Appeal and desire are the most subjective of concepts in the physical world. When we append “forevers” and “everythings” to our feelings, we fall under the delusion that ours is a love more enduring and powerful than any that ever were or will be. Until, you know, it isn’t.
Probably too heavy a thought for a day like this, but then Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is no ordinary romance. The seminal classic is about how desperately we cling to pleasure and the lengths to which we go to erase pain. It follows an imperfect man and his imperfect love in a quest to start over. The film pieces together fragments of a story — not in any known order of time or space, but in emotion. Reality means nothing here. This is a labyrinthine, paradoxical journey through the baffling constructions of the human mind: that underappreciated organ where love truly resides.
This is a film both desperately sad and philosophically intense. So why spend today watching it? For the luminous message of hope that threads itself through the narrative. The hope that even in a sentiment completely devoid of its past, lies the evocative possibility of a future.
Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine
Christine Jin, Contributing Film Editor
Google’s search results for Valentine’s Day movies will most likely include a string of much-cherished Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Among those is The Notebook, which catapulted Canadian darlings Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling to stardom, as well as to a highly staged Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards. Though it might have topped some Valentine’s Day movie lists, I’m singling this out to introduce a better love story starring Gosling. After having added a couple of critically successful indies like Half Nelson to his resume in the intervening years, Gosling returned with Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s sophomore feature.
This time, he partners up with Michelle Williams, and their portrayal of a gradually disintegrating relationship between Dean and Cindy feels exhaustingly real. Like Gosling’s previous affair with Adams spanning decades, this falling-out-of-love story also traverses different time frames, but Cianfrance’s purposeful plotting does more than merely allow the characters a nostalgic revisit to the bittersweet old days, or clueing viewers in on some long-buried secrets. In Blue Valentine, it all starts with the death of the couple’s pet, which is but one of the many potential triggers. The opening scene presents a deceptively peaceful morning in a loving home, but as the dog’s death leads to an impulsive getaway to a love motel, we notice those familiar, seemingly insignificant signs of a relationship in trouble — misinterpreted words, alcoholism, fading passion. Each time Cindy’s and Dean’s minds slip into the miserable now, their beginnings filled with laughs, tears, and promises seem increasingly distant. Cianfrance repeats the calculated juxtaposition of past and present, building towards the film’s emotional peak, where the pair’s tearful marriage vows segue into a dusk-toned image of them parting ways. This marriage between the film’s formal gambit and its delicate, convincing depiction of a waning love sets Blue Valentine apart from other romantic dramas. Admittedly it’s a downer, but witnessing Gosling and Williams re-define authentic acting alone is worth it.