90% of romantic movies bore me to tears. It’s not that there’s anything inherently uninteresting about a love story; it’s just that most of these films are predictable and either so saccharine or mopey that it puts a bad taste in my mouth. That said, there are movies in existence that deal with romance that aren’t so generic. Some of them are even rather strange. And so, in the spirit (or under the shadow) of Valentine’s Day, I present 5 romantic movies ranked by their level of weirdness.
#5) The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs tells the story of Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) who had a permanent smile carved onto his face as a child as punishment for having a rebel-rousing father. Deformed, he works in a traveling circus and is in a relationship with a blind woman named Dea (Mary Philbin). There’s quite a lot to the plot (it’s based on Hugo, isn’t it?) but it’s all superfluous to the purpose of this list. I ranked this movie so low because the relationship between Gwynplaine and Dea is actually the most normal aspect of the film and, together, they make one of the sweetest onscreen couples of all time. But, on the whole, it’s a pretty odd movie.
#4) Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Possibly the weirdest thing about this film is that it was inspired by an actual website. Lars and the Real Girl is about Lars (Ryan Gosling), a borderline recluse who falls in love with a life-size doll that he perceives to be a real woman named Bianca. Gosling himself admitted that he thought the premise sounded pretty thin when he first heard it. “And then, low and behold, I finish the script and I’m crying,” he said. It really is a sweet movie about family and connection and I’m always moved by how the small town in which Lars lives rallies together to make Bianca (and therefore Lars) feel a part of the community. It’s the sort of film that you forget is odd until you try to explain it to other people.
#3) Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
Based on the short story, Kneller’s Happy Campers, by Etgar Keret, Wristcutters: A Love Story is about Zia (Patrick Fugit), a young man who cuts his wrists and finds himself in a purgatorial afterlife reserved for those who have committed suicide. There he meets (among other characters) Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a woman who maintains that she ODed accidentally and has been sent to this afterlife by mistake. The film itself is flawed but Zia and Mikal have good chemistry and make a darkly quirky couple together. Furthermore, the movie’s ending, while contrived, is guaranteed to make you smile.
#2) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
Okay, is this really a romantic film? Well … not by most standards but hear me out. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is based on the novel by Patrick Süskind and relates the twisted, tragic life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a man with a near-superhuman sense of smell whose obsession with human scent drives him to kill 13 women and distill their fragrances into the greatest perfume on earth. While there is no kissing, hand holding or even sex in this film (except in a fantasy), love, or at least the desire and pursuit of love, is at the heart of this story making Perfume, arguably, just as romantic as Sleepless in Seattle. Grenouille makes the perfume because he wants to be loved and, in the end, he seems to succeed. The perfume’s fragrance renders a mob awestruck and declaring him an angel but he realizes that the crowd is in love with the perfume, not with him. He thinks of his first victim (Karoline Herfurth) and imagines what would have happened if he had embraced her rather than killed her. It’s an indescribably poignant moment in which he realizes that, as the narrator says, “There was only one thing the perfume could not do. It could not turn him into a person who could love and be loved like everyone else. ‘So, to Hell with it,’ he thought.” In his despair, he commits suicide via perfume-induced cannibalism. Which ties in well with #1 …
#1) Grimm Love (2007)
The strangest love story ever told made all the creepier by the fact that it’s based on a true story. Grimm Love focuses on Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann), a man who goes onto a cannibal website and requests a man to eat. A week later, Simon Grombeck (Thomas Huber) contacts him and, long story short, Hartwin eats him. Believe it or not, unlike in Perfume, there is no doubt as to the romantic nature of this relationship. Hartwin and Grombeck may have only just met but there is a tangible connection between them. It’s well-established that, for both men, this is the fulfillment of a fantasy. The tenderness with which Hartwin places a semi-conscious Grombeck into a bathtub and cuddles him after chopping off his penis and eating it … well, it’s touching. Disturbing and stomach-churning, but touching. I can’t say that I enjoyed watching this film but it does tell one memorable love story.
And with that in mind, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!