As anyone who has browsed its virtual aisles knows, Netflix can be a hit-or-miss affair when it comes to finding the movie you’re in the mood for. The digital subscription service has thousands of titles in rotation at any given time, but due to constantly churning licensing issues, certain genres are better served than others.
The happy news – for this weekend, anyway – is that Netflix has some very good romantic comedies and dramas currently available. Smaller independent films, in particular, can get a substantial second wind on Netflix, which is good for everyone. Filmmakers get a bigger audience, and we get to see all those good movies that never came to the local art house theater.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are five recommended hidden-gem romances, with some bonus classic picks thrown in.
Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
Largely improvised by a talented cast, Your Sister’s Sister is a lovely and funny comedy-drama that aches with authenticity. When platonic best friends Iris and Jack (Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass) spend a rural cabin weekend with Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), drinks are served, secrets are revealed and love blossoms. Kind of – things get weird. The final moment is so pitch perfect that you’ll want to rewind and watch again, just to admire the clockwork precision of it all. Highly recommended.
Take This Waltz (2011)
Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams star in this underrated romantic drama, which starts out slow and awkward, then gets interesting and complex. Just like love! Heads up, though – the film chronicles a marriage in trouble, and the vibe is not uplifting. Williams is terrific, as is comic Sarah Silverman in a dramatic supporting role. But it’s Seth Rogen who really nails it, proving that not only is he one of the funniest guys on Earth, he’s a genuinely skillful screen performer with a surprising emotional range.
The gist: L.A. artist Oliver (Ewan McGregor) navigates the treacherous waters of love with fetching French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). Meanwhile, Oliver’s dad (Christopher Plummer) looks for love himself after coming out of the closet at age 75. Director Mike Mills tells the story with a clever flashback structure in three different time frames – Oliver in the present, Oliver three months ago, and Oliver as a child. Beginners is the thinking couple’s rom-com, and a great date movie.
Another overachieving indie comedy, Adventureland takes place over the course of one crazy summer at a second-rate amusement park circa 1987. The central love story, between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, is sweetened with very funny performances from Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Reynolds, and Martin Starr. It’s fun to watch Stewart have a good time after moping through those vampire movies for so many years.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Saving the best for last: Director David O. Russell’s 2012 hit was eventually nominated for eight Oscars, so it’s not exactly a hidden gem. But it is a must-see. The movie has the shape of a mainstream romantic comedy, but inside those lines it paints with different colors than we’re expecting.
Bradley Cooper plays a Philadelphia school teacher recently released from an eight-month stint in the psych ward. Jennifer Lawrence portrays a similarly lost soul, and it’s a singular pleasure to watch their love story unfold. Probably the most surprising thing about Silver Linings Playbook is how relentlessly funny it is. The dialogue is rooted deeply in character – you’ll find no rom-com one-liners here. Instead, the comedy builds organically until it erupts into genuinely unhinged laughs.
If none of these float your Valentine’s Day boat, the Netflix romance bins are deep with older classics, too. Consider A Room with a View (1985), The English Patient (1996), Chocolat (2000) or – for a fairy tale variation – the fantasy romance Stardust (2007). For a can’t-miss sure shot, there’s also Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
Have a lovely weekend, everyone!