Romance probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of the apocalypse, or telepathy, or the embodiment of death. Yet these have been major elements in some of the most watchable romantic films available on Netflix Instant.* Love stories don’t have to be conventional to be romantic, as these six very strange movies show. Each is off-beat and odd in its own way, while still full of the sweetness, longing, and stolen glances that make a story a romance. So next time you’re feeling a little weird, throw on your Lisa Frank leggings and your blinking hearts headband and turn on one of these fun and bizarre romances.
In Your Eyes
In Your Eyes is a strange yet totally earnest film, and that combination works compellingly in this story. Becky (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) are from different sides of the tracks – they’ve never met in person and literally live in separate parts of the country – yet they have a strange telepathic connection. When Becky gets into a sledding accident as a young girl, Dylan seizes and faints. As an adult, Dylan gets into a bar fight and Becky can feel the punch. When suddenly this connection manifests itself in more overt ways, they find they can communicate with each other in their heads and even see from the other’s perspective. This film teeters close to the ridiculous. The actors spend a lot of time staring into space pretending they are seeing what the other person is seeing: they’re basically skyping without technology. Though it takes itself a little too seriously for being so wacky, In Your Eyes never quite topples into ludicrousness. As Becky and Dylan’s relationship blooms and develops, we root for them, and the ending is wonderful and satisfying.
I can’t believe this movie came out eighteen years ago in 1998. This was during Gwyneth’s British phase, which seems a little weird now but back then seemed totally normal. The plot is actually two plots, unfolding at the same time in, I guess, parallel dimensions. The sliding doors of the title are the London Tube doors, which are the genesis of the two stories – one if Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) makes the train and another if she doesn’t. There are so many things to like about this movie, not least the illustration of how a split second can change someone’s life. This film is also one of the best examples of gaslighting I’ve seen, in the lies and coverups of Helen’s cheating boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch), though he’s more pathetic and cowardly than actually unlikable. Cutie patootie John Hannah plays James, who is perfect. One of my favorite scenes in the film is James running around to every place he can think of to find Helen, while Gerry looks for her only at her best friend’s apartment and, unsuccessful, claims defeat. Made for: those who want their romance with a side of metaphysical angst.
Kate and Leopold
So much time travel weirdness! When I first rated this movie on Netflix way back when, I only gave it 2 stars. Yet over the years whenever it has popped into my mind, I’ve thought of it fondly, if dimly. Leopold (Hugh Jackman) ends up in 21st century New York through a series of events too nonsensical to explain. There he falls in with Kate (Meg Ryan), who is looking for her Palm Pilot stylus, and her brother (Breckin Meyer). He fits right in, using toasters, shilling fat-free butter, and even scoring a lady’s phone number at a bar for the hapless Breckin Meyer. Please overlook Meg Ryan’s strange choppy haircut. Also, don’t think about the premise or the plot too long or too hard. Just let Hugh Jackman’s charm and Meg Ryan’s silliness wash over you. Liev Schrieber plays Meg Ryan’s boyfriend, who spends much of the movie off-screen in an insane asylum. You know a movie is strange when the time-traveling inventor who “found a crack in time” is given the least screen time.
Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black (1998) has one of the weirdest love triangles ever: a woman, the cute guy she meets in a coffee shop, and the entity called Death that then takes over his body for most of the film. In case you missed this Brad Pitt gem (or were intimidated by its three-hour run time), a quick recap: Bill, a mega rich, successful businessman, starts having chest pains and suspects that death is near–especially after Death starts talking to him. At the same time, his daughter Susan (Claire Forlani) meets a flirtatious guy in a coffee shop (Brad Pitt) who excites her in a way her staid relationship with her father’s right-hand man, Drew, doesn’t. When the cute guy tells her he’d gladly give up what he wanted for a woman, she admits, “It’s so right, it scares me, that’s all.” The two part shyly–and then Susan doesn’t notice him get hit by multiple cars. Fatally. Because it turns out Death wants a taste of life, and he needs a body. Daddy Bill agrees, reluctantly, to show Death around in exchange for a few days of life, so he introduces him to his family–including a surprised Susan–as “Joe Black.” The movie is part tale of a man accepting his mortality, part sweeping romance between Susan and Joe Black (and/or the man she met in the coffee shop. She doesn’t realize she’s fallen for two guys, let alone where one ends and the other begins). Pitt is great as a man experiencing life for the first time (and love, and peanut butter), and it’s physically impossible not to swoon a little at the long, long moments (and looks!) he shares with the beautiful, charismatic Forlani.
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Continuing the theme of weird love triangles is 2010’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. At first glance, this may be an odd choice for a weird romance list, but it’s one of those you have to watch to the end to appreciate its strangeness. In it, struggling writer Ethan (Christopher Gorham) meets Jesse (Alyssa Milano) at a coffeeshop. Sparks fly, and she gives him her number. But then in walks Troy (Michael Landes), who Jesse also connects with…and also gives her number. The men are different: Ethan is a nice, flannel-wearing guy who’s struggling to make ends meet at his dream; Troy is a successful, confident businessman. (It’s worth noting that both guys are funny, which makes Troy more palatable than most typical alphas in romance stories. He’s basically Ethan, but with a suit and slightly more bravado.) What follows are alternating scenes of Jesse dating both men: mini-golf with Ethan, real golf with Troy. Warm, smart, and funny, and with great references (Star Wars! Darcy!), it’s a terrific rom-com–and even better on the rewatch, once its secrets have been revealed.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Romance in end times? It could happen. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World starts off with a bang: Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife are in a car when the radio announces that a satellite has broken and in three weeks’ time, it will fall to earth and herald the end of the world. “I think we missed our exit,” Dodge says, but his wife jumps out of the car, running to a place she’d rather spend her last days. What follows is a darkly comic, fascinating look at how the world around Dodge responds to their expiration date. Most take to hedonism (drugs and sex, natch); some bitterness; still others, like his cleaning lady, continuing to show up to work dutifully. Dodge still flosses and works, until riots break out in his neighborhood and he flees, taking with him his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley). Penny is Dodge’s opposite in many ways: free-spirited, optimistic, friendly–and sometimes irresponsible, as she reveals she’s held some of Dodge’s misdelivered mail for months, including a letter from his ex claiming Dodge was the love of her life. Driven to connect with his old flame, and helped by a guilty Penny, Dodge takes a road trip to find her. With an awesome comedic cast but not heaps of chemistry, the film feels more comedy than romance, though Penny and Dodge’s steps toward each other are funny and heartwarming, and his last line–and I really mean last line–is romantic in all the right ways.
*The above films were on Netflix Instant as of August 2016.