In Defense of the Breakup: when romance doesn’t work out on the bigscreen..and everybody is still (mostly) ok

If there’s a pattern we are happy to see repeated in art, it’s the culmination of a romantic relationship: the moment when the girl gets the guy, the wedding, that heart-wrenching scene when the characters realize they are in love with one another in the same moment, and will live happily ever after. As much as we might say we enjoy surprise endings, there’s a lot of comfort to be found in a story where our expectations for the characters are met, and a relationship is forged in cinematic eternity.

So it’s rare to find movies, especially those that fall into the ‘romantic comedy’ genre, where characters don’t (gasp) end up together. And I’d like to make an argument for this story. Because in ‘real life,’ we don’t always end up with the guy, and you know what? It is ok. We are ok. As much as I do want movies and tv to represent a glorification of real life– a glossier, high-def version of what I am experiencing, I also like it when a movie reflects my own experiences in romance. So, here are some movies to check out when you need a reminder that romance doesn’t always end in a trip to the church, and sometimes for the best. “Just because something good ends doesn’t mean something better won’t begin.” 

5 not-so romantic Romantic Movies:

5. 500 Days of Summer

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I’d watch this movie simply to gaze at Joseph Gordon-Levitt and emulate Zooey Deschanel’s wardrobe. Hip as hell, the both of them. Not to mention an addictive soundtrack. And to be honest, I did not like this movie the first time I saw it. It was one of the first romantic movies I watched where the protagonists don’t end up together, and I think I struggled with the concept. I was also a little in denial about my own relationship at the time, and the possibility that it might not work out. I ended up watching it a while later and I realized how great this movie is exactly for those reasons: accepting the reality that not every relationship is going to work out, and as challenging as they experience might be, you can learn so much about yourself through it.

    4. Begin Again

Focal point on music, and being true to yourself. Spoiler alert: Keira Knightley doesn’t end up with either Adam Levine or Mark Ruffalo. And she is (another gasp) ok. In fact, you get the feeling she’s better off for finding her independence and following her heart, not in the arms of a dude, but in her career aspirations.

     3. Drinking Buddies

Man, director Joel Swanberg loves his sexual tension. He is so good at depicting the pivotal situations we find ourselves in and the choices we get to make about our relationships in those moments. As adorable as Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde are in their exchanges, I was really satisfied that they remain, in fact, drinking buddies, and not romantically entangled. Hey, Harry and Sally: guys and girls can be friends.

     2. Her

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I did not think I would fall for a movie about a man falling for a piece of technology. As much as I enjoy perusing Instagram, Snapchat, and other people’s blogs, it also bums me out how entranced people become by all of it– when I’m at a restaurant with friends and we are all looking down at our phones. And that’s exactly why this movie is worth watching. It’s a reminder both about how our desire to be loved and seen and heard is so intrinsically human that we might be willing to find it in any form, and how important it is to cultivate the relationships right around us, whether romantic or otherwise. The dangers of technology, at its rawest. Also, Joaquin Phoenix is pretty lovable, even at his most desperate moments pining after his computer operating system.

  1. Celeste and Jesse Forever

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“It recognizes that the hardest part of breaking up is losing a partner” – Gyan Yankovich, via Buzzfeed

I love Andy Samberg and I love Rashida Jones, and so, of course, watching them together is delightful..even if very early in the movie, you learn this is not a ‘girl met boy’ story. This is a ‘how do you deal with the unwinding of a relationship when you still care about each other,’ kind of story. Of all the movies on this list, this one resonated with me the most. Having been in a similar situation (and really, who hasn’t?), I could relate to the pain you feel as a relationship is ending, but also starting to recognize the possibility and room for growth that you give yourself when you end a relationship that isn’t functional. This is a well-written (Jones is one of the main writers) and relatable story that anyone struggling with a breakup can find perspective in. Buzzfeed summed it up well: It doesn’t have a perfectly packaged ending, “and that’s important, because not everything does.” Whoa.

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