Sure, when Valentine’s Day rolls around it’s easy for the American Film Institute to list the top 25 romance movies of all time, expecting you to curl up with a box of Kleenex and noisily clear your nasal passages to lines like, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
But where on these lists of titles like “Love Story,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” is “The Land Before Time”? “The Land Before Time,” you ask? Isn’t that the ’80s flick with the animated dinosaurs? What’s love got to do with that? Well, it just so happens to be my very first date movie.
I vividly remember that first date. Me and Daniel. And my mom. And Daniel’s mom. We were six. You can imagine how stoked I was, wearing my brand-spanking-new blue corduroy pants complete with elasticized waistband and the sweater with the hearts on it. Ah, the awkward pre-movie small talk masking all that sexual tension and anxiety.
Sandra: So, Daniel — do you like to play?
Sandra: Me too!
And then the excited post-movie banter.
Sandra: How ’bout those dinosaurs!
Not much has changed. Except, of course, what I consider the appropriate “date movie.” Tonight of all nights is the ultimate date night. The pressure is on, not only to have a Valentine but to DO something with said Valentine. Options abound. You could go out. Or stay in, as it were. But many of us find salvation in the “date movie.” And that begs the question, what is the ultimate “date movie”? Well, that all depends on who your date is.
Flash-forward 10 years, and once again I’m sitting in vintage blue cords — no more elasticized waistband — on my friend Mike’s couch in his basement. We’re watching “Apocalypse Now” and drooling over Coppola’s mind-blowing cinematography:
Sandra: Whoa, look how the ceiling fan, like, totally BECOMES the helicopter blades.
Mike: Intense, man, inTENSE.
Ah, the burgeoning love of film geeks.
This is not to say that conventional “rom-coms” don’t have their place in pop culture. In fact, many people strongly associate Eros with these formulaic-yet-oddly-addictive films. These flicks don’t just serve as an excuse to sit next to your crush in a darkened theater for two hours. They are guilty pleasures, even therapy sessions for all the lonely hearts and hopeless romantics out there.
Flash-forward to Valentine’s Day, freshman year of college. Some suitemates and floormates and I decided to spend that night of love dousing ourselves in champagne and chocolate and indulging in our favorite romantic comedies. Suggestions ranged from films of the John Hughes variety to anything with Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or of late, J.Lo. My job was to get the movie. I remember the line at Blockbuster being particularly long. Picture this singleton — sandwiched between swooning couples — with a copy of “The Wedding Planner” under her arm. Barf.
Back at the dorm we’re engrossed in the movie, occasionally commenting on how great J.Lo’s hair/butt/outfit looks or how hot/sweet/perfect Matthew McConaughey is. But then the wrath of the singletons begins to simmer. No men are ACTUALLY like that. This is pure Hollywood formula thrown in our faces. We chuck chocolate hearts at the TV in disgust. Suddenly, before our very eyes, we’re morphing into bitter female monsters cursing the screenwriters who would write this sappy drivel. How could we be duped into paying five bucks to rent this BS, sitting through all two hours, and still allowing it to be the subject of our fantasies? I mean, come on, J.Lo meets her soulmate when her Gucci heel gets stuck in a manhole cover when she tries to cross the street? And not only does her knight in shining armor turn out to be a perfect gentleman and a doctor, but he’s also Matthew McConaughey??
The problem with rom-coms is that no matter how much we deny their relevance or how much we criticize the blatant Hollywood formula, somehow many of us let the fantasy play over and over in our psyche. And for girls, it goes back to when we were all 6-year-olds watching “Snow White,” letting the words “Prince Charming” make an impression in our vocabularies. Why else would a friend of mine, after watching “You’ve Got Mail” religiously, trace the film’s New York locations on a map and visit them all — especially the cafe where Ryan and Hanks finally meet — during her latest trip to the Big Apple?
There has, of late, been a shift towards edgier, more unconventional romantic films like “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Italian for Beginners” to rival the flat, conventional new releases. But if you’re more of an old-fashioned type and stumped on this Valentine’s Day for a date movie, you can’t go wrong with the following classics. My criteria is as follows: if I’ve seen the movie at least five times and it still makes me cry/sigh/swoon, it gets a gold star in my book.
1. “Love Story” (1970) Yeah, it takes place at Harvard, but it’s still the best.
2. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) Even guys swear by it.
3. “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) Do we sense a Meg Ryan trend?
4. “The Princess Bride” (1987) Worth it just for Inigo Montoya.
5. “Pretty Woman” (1990) Because who doesn’t love makeovers?
And hell, give “The Land Before Time” a whirl. After all, chicks dig dinosaurs.