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Forget rom-coms this Valentine’s Day — watch these movies instead

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Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in “Tangerine.”
(Magnolia Pictures/TNS)

Six movies that revel in the complicated aspects of love

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It’s hard to get love right in movies.

If I say “romantic films,” there’s a good chance the first thing to pop in your head is a romcom: “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Princes Bride,” “She’s All That,” “Clueless,” “Sixteen Candles,” etc. And while those movies are great, their representations of love are not only superficial, they’re also fixed on heteronormative ideals.

Love is messy. It’s deeper and more complicated than romance. As much as we want to realize that the love of our life was hidden behind those nerdy glasses all along, it doesn’t really work that way.

So here are a few underrated, out-of-the-box films that depict the messy, complicated aspects of love, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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“E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
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(Universal Pictures)

I had a teacher in high school who was adamant that “E.T.” was the greatest love story ever made. At the time, I thought he was crazy, but his sentiment has stuck with me. Now with a few years of retrospection under my belt, I have a better understanding of what my teacher was talking about: There are few things more pure and heart-wrenching than the love between a lonely 10-year-old boy and an alien. Steven Spielberg’s megahit is chock full of iconic scenes, but what really endures is the portrayal of messy, unvarnished emotions that occur when loving something so deeply, even if we don’t really understand it. So, thank you Mr. Fletcher—sorry I can’t remember most of the presidents in the 1800s, but I’ll carry your thoughts on “E.T.” to the grave.

3
“It Follows” (2014)

In David Robert Mitchell’s film “It Follows,” sex is a curse. Literally. After sleeping with a sketchy dude, Jay learns that she’s essentially contracted a ghost, which will follow and kill her unless she sleeps with someone else. Yes, “It Follows” is a nightmare of love gone wrong, but the film’s portrayal of Jay’s circle of friends — especially her girlfriends — is the one of the truest, most genuine and loving I’ve seen in film. They don’t question Jay, they don’t disbelieve the curse—Jay’s problem immediately becomes all of theirs.

4
“Fight Club” (1999)
Fight Club Merrick Morton TNS.jpg
(Merrick Morton/TNS)

“Fight Club” has become popular for all the wrong reasons, and while it’s technically a great film, the bro-heavy, pseudo-intellectual fandom “Fight Club” inspires nearly ruins it (this is the same reason I’m turned off of “Rick & Morty” and Bukowski novels). But at its heart, “Fight Club” is a love movie (a fact that the book’s author Chuck Palahniuk laments in the novel’s afterword). The narrator’s relationship with Marla Singer isn’t exactly the shining example of healthy love, but c’mon — who wouldn’t feel at least a little bit flattered if someone started a terrorist cell organization just to get your attention? And spoiler: the ending scene where they watch empty skyscrapers fall down together is one of the sweetest scenes in any movie.

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“Tangerine” (2015)
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Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in “Tangerine.” (Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures/TNS) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, TCN - OUTS **
(Magnolia Pictures/TNS)

When trans sex worker Sin-Dee is released from a 28-day jail stint on Christmas Eve, she learns that the love of her life — her pimp Chester — has been cheating. With the help of her friend Alexandra, the two set out to find Chester, which results in an Odyssean journey through the sun-baked outskirts of L.A. that includes smoking meth in a bathroom, a lovelorn taxi driver and Alexandra singing in an empty nightclub. As seedy as this all sounds, it’s hard not to wholeheartedly root for Sin-Dee, who brims with confidence and wit. “Tangerine” reminds us that love doesn’t necessarily require a partner; that self-acceptance and loving oneself can be as difficult and elusive as loving someone else, but when it works, it’s incredibly powerful.

6
“Tammy and the T-Rex” (1994)

We’ve all been there: A jealous ex kidnaps your boyfriend, releases him in a wild animal park where he’s torn apart by big cats. Then, a mad scientist transplants his brain in an animatronic T-Rex, which goes on a murderous rampage in an effort to win you back, thereby proving that neither death, logic or a clumsy mess of latex and wiring can stop true love. There are so many bonkers things going on with this film (I can only imagine most of the budget went to cocaine) but it’s a love story at heart, and a hell of a fun one at that.
(“Tammy and the T-Rex” will play at Digital Gym Cinema on March 7 at 9 p.m. as the first entry in Ryan Bradford’s Awkward Movie Nights series.)

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“Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
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Simon Pegg (left) and Nick Frost (right) star in the movie SHAUN OF THE DEAD, a Rogue Pictures release.
(Rogue Pictures)

In an industry that still caters to the lowest common denominator, it’s common for cinematic male-male relationships to be toxic, based heavily on aggression, and/or use gay panic for punchlines. The zombie horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” however, is a good portrayal of friendship and love between two straight males, Shaun and Ed. There are plenty of laughs to be had at the expense of two losers who barely even register that a zombie Apocalypse is going on around them, but the film never goes for cheap jokes or stereotypes. Spoiler: the fact that Shaun keeps Ed around after Ed has turned into a zombie just goes to show how deep-seated their love is.


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