Here’s a guide to emotional recovery, a kind of break-up playlist, but for movies. The emotional tenor of one leads directly into the healing effects of the next, moving you ever closer to stability and a place where you can believe you will love again. It doesn’t feel like it now, but you so will. If someone had said that to me a month ago, though, I would have wanted to punch them, so bookmark this and come back in a week or so if you need to. Take your time. You do you.
You’re probably gonna feel a whole lot worse before you feel better.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This movie knows where you’re at, as it’s all about the desire to erase a maddening relationship from your mind. I bet you wanna do that right now too. When those credits start fifteen minutes in, and Jim Carrey is sobbing in his car, and Beck sings “Everybody’s gotta learn sometime…” you will know that another person is as shattered and destroyed as you. Cry it out, everything is terrible.
2. Kramer vs. Kramer
Finding yourself and ending a relationship sometimes has an incredibly high cost, and this movie is really more about divorce and selfishness and having to handle things by yourself when you weren’t ready for it. For added pain, begin to relate to both the son and Dustin Hoffman. Side note, Meryl Streep is so young and lithe and beautiful in this movie you’ll probably start thinking hateful things about yourself, so handle with care.
3. High Fidelity
John Cusack counts down through the top five break ups of his whole life, and there’s some great music along the way. This movie has a lot to say about relationships and messing things up and being unhappy and making terrible decisions so let it wash over you, take it all in and meditate on it. Also featuring one of the only times that Smog has appeared on a soundtrack, so a nice perk for those who care at all about the Bill Callahan/Joanna Newsom break-up spectacle (one out of every million people).
4. The Way We Were
The best element of The Way We Were is the fact that two very different people (Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand) manage to overcome their obvious differences and understand that the other person is exactly the kind of person they should be with. So often I think we choose people like us, sick little mirrors that mime our own problems back at us, and we’re fooled every time we fall in love into thinking we choose a different kind of person. But we don’t. Ignore all the ’70s trappings and see through to the essence of their relationship, how two people beat the odds for a brief moment in time. I can never recommend this movie enough.
5. All the Real Girls
Seriously underrated, beautiful cinematography, outstanding dialogue and directed by David Gordon Green before he decided to make stoner comedies forever. Zooey Deschanel can actually act, and this is the evidence of it. Small town life gets complicated when the town playboy starts dating an innocent. The two of them struggle to make things work, and this is in the “relationships are so hard” portion of the list, if that tells you anything.
6. Like Crazy
Like Crazy might hurt you the most, because it’s perhaps the most realistic about the difficulties and stupidity of young love so it’s right in the middle of the pack. You can remember the good times more vividly and the devastation that comes from giving love your all. Bad choices, simple mistakes, and we’re all paying for everything with our daily, lived lives. Watching other people careen head first into sorrow is never easy, but it will help in this case, promise.
7. (500) Days of Summer
God, this movie.
8. Sense and Sensibility
Yes it’s a period piece, but it’s got mega stars in it and is directed by Ang Lee, so buck up. When Marianne (Kate Winslet) stands on the hill in the pouring rain and stares at the house where her love has gone, sobbing relentlessly, you too may feel as if your heart will break. Who hasn’t driven past their ex’s house “accidentally,” hmm? While the lows in this movie are pretty affecting, the positivity and devotion that it cherishes are ultimately comforting, so it’s on the upward swing of this mix.
9. Someone Like You
Most people haven’t seen this gem, ostensibly it’s all about one woman’s struggle to get over a breakup that leaves her devastated, but it’s pretty off beat. Ashley Judd is so funny and great, and Hugh Jackman and Greg Kinnear are hilarious and in top form. The love that we make exceptions for can leave us blinded to a harsher reality, and when things come crashing down, leave us wrecked. Uh, yeah, still positive though.
10. Jerry Maguire
Kind of about sports, but that’s a red herring, it’s mostly about falling in love with someone who doesn’t quite love you. The writing and performances in this movie (Bonnie Hunt, anyone?) make it worth a re-visit, as do the messages about learning to stick to a decision. Rene Zellweger and Tom Cruise may not have the best chemistry, but the tenderness of their relationship is absolutely well done and gently inspiring.
11. Say Anything
John Cusack again, and I apologize, but this is a great one, not only for the falling in love aspect, yet another romance that blossoms out of taking a chance and stepping outside of yourself, but for the way in which both parties deal with setbacks and break-ups. The final scene is powerful stuff, an ending solidly earned and heartily enjoyable.
12. Notting Hill
I have this movie memorized, moment for moment, the odd mix of bizarre humor as well as the fumbling adorability of Hugh Grant combined with the electric breakdown of Julia Roberts may prove to be a bit much for you, but there’s grandly impulsive behavior here, tempered by justified reason. Spontaneity that finds a firm grounding in trust. The final scenes never fail to make me cry, and are as much of a promise of better things to come in our own lives as they are a testament to the joy of life, the idea that we are here to love and to be loved.
13. P.S. I Love You
Love alters not when it alteration finds, even after death, and it’s heartening to think of loving someone so well, knowing them so intimately, that you prepared for them to go on living without you. To even wrap your mind around the concept that everyone you know someday will die, and you will be gone too just gets worse as you get older, so why waste even a second of your life with a surfeit of love?
14. The Holiday
With mixes, there’s almost an obligation to end on a high gushy note. Kate Winslet’s relationship problems are spot on, Cameron Diaz gets the better storyline though. Get plastered on hot toddies and watch the scene with the little girls in their play fort over and over again. Change is possible, love is real, and Christmas is coming.
15. Annie Hall
Perhaps one of the greatest relationship movies of all time. Two people fight it out and love it out over the years, and you have to just do it. Witty, sarcastic, loving, hateful, beautiful, complicated and messy; relationships are hard, and sometimes they end, even if two people love each other.
To love another person, in any capacity, is the hardest work that we do here on Earth. Even if it doesn’t work out, look at you, you were so strong, you were so brave to try your best, and I love that. Don’t stop because of this setback, don’t curl up and dwell forever. You took a break, you grieved what was good between you two, and now it’s time. You keep going, and I’ll be right there too.
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