Traditional romantic comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally” used to be the definitive films of the genre. A closer look at these might reveal that they’re less about “romance,” more about “perpetuating the idea that women need men to be happy and fulfilled.” Case in point: the 1998 classic, “You’ve Got Mail”. By today’s standards, the romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan feels more like the story of a jerk who tricks a woman he met online into falling in love with him while he moves his corporate bookstore into her neighborhood, thus driving her small bookshop out of business.
I offer an alternative list of 8 titles, some romantic and some not, perfect for Valentine’s Day and every other damn day, too. Each of these pairs nicely with a large pizza, a case of grapefruit-flavored bubble water, and a chocolate cake in a mug.
Frida (2002) – “Frida” stars Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her husband, painter Diego Rivera. Salma Hayek is PERFECTION as Frida Kahlo. She likely ushered in a sexual awakening for thousands of adoring fans, thanks to her onscreen flirtations and sexual relationships with women, such as Ashley Judd as Tina Modati, and Karine Plantadit as the famous French burlesque performer Josephine Baker. The film celebrates Kahlo’s achievements but is honest about her experiences with pain and suffering. It’s also stunningly beautiful, taking Kahlo’s expansive body of work and bringing it into the real world (often literally).
Ginger Snaps (2000) – A very cool Canadian film about two sisters, both morbid outcasts, who plan on dying together. Brigitte and her older sister Ginger are on their way to sabotage a mean, popular girl when Ginger starts her period and attracts a mysterious night beast who attacks her. She survives but gets ultra sexy overnight. When she starts to sprout patches of fur and grow a tail, things go from campy to sinister. It’s a heartfelt story about the bond between sisters, and also what happens when a hormonal werewolf mauls horny teenage boys by the pale moonlight.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) – An unexpected inclusion, perhaps. But let’s break down the plot. Girl gets whisked off to Cuba just before the impending Cuban Revolution. She’s smart. She reads. She thinks for herself. While her classmates are busy being mean and cool and American, she’s defending the very, very, very good looking Diego Luna who can dance and has one of those cute-boy winks like all great cute boys do (Jim Sturgess, Ryan Gosling, The Rock). She then learns to dance thanks to Patrick Swayze and woos Luna and it’s all very romantic and sensual. Plus Mya (of Lady Marmalade fame) is in it.
The Hairy Bird (1998) – Unfairly renamed “All I Wanna Do” for sensitive American audiences and “Strike” for Canadian audiences, this film is about four prep-school darlings who love to stir shit up. They’re always in trouble for something and they form a secret club called the Daughters of the American Ravioli and eat canned ravioli while they gossip. They each want to grow up to be something extraordinary. Maureen is an aspiring biologist, while Verena hopes to start her own magazine. Odette is interested in politics, and Tinka plans to be an “actress-folksinger-slut.” The group is based on real best friends (including Glenn Close!) who attended an all-girls school called Rosemary Hall.
9 to 5 (1980) – I would be remiss not to mention this classic starring the iconic Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. I can barely handle this cast. It’s almost too good to be true. And for those of you that haven’t given it a chance, put it on your list of goals for 2019 because it’s practically part of the feminism handbook at this point, right along with “Mean Girls” and “Thelma and Louise.” This plot is wild y’all. Three women band together to take down their sexist boss and while he’s gone they totally fix everything by implementing equal pay, daycare, and flexible hours. When the head of the company finds out, they get promoted and follow their dreams. Like I said, wild.
What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) – Tina Turner is a powerful, beautiful, stunning star and Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Tina is EMOTIONAL. Laurence Fishburne plays Ike Turner and together they are a volatile pair. Keep in mind, this means some pretty violent and graphic scenes, true to their relationship. And remember that Tina comes out on top, making a name for herself thanks to songs like “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Proud Mary,” and my favorite, a track written and produced by Phil Spector in 1966 called “River Deep – Mountain High.”
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) – The ‘90s really delivered when it came to feminist comedies. A young Natasha Lyon plays a high school cheerleader whose parents, suspecting she’s a lesbian, send her to lesbian conversion therapy camp. When she gets there she’s introduced to ‘90s Queen Clea DuVall and they fall in love. What happens next is beautiful and magical and I want you to watch so I’m not going to tell you any more …except that RuPaul is involved.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) – Yes, this is a documentary but it’s a really, really good one a well-deserved inclusion to this list. I completely support any holiday where one method of celebration includes chocolate and/or crying, and this retelling of the second-wave feminist movement by the women who started it will definitely make you cry. Interviews with the founding women of organizations like the Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell and the National Organization for Women are only part of what makes this documentary special. It’s touching, and it reminds us of the women who came before and fought for us all.
Have fun storming the castle!