David Lee / Focus Features

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." David Lee Focus Features

Five romantic comedies for that special date

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10TICKET
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 - 4:45 pm

It's Valentine's Day, and you and your significant other just enjoyed a very tasty, very expensive dinner. You stared into each other's eyes and whispered words of appreciation for the food, the wine, each other.

Now you're home, and wondering how to fill the next few hours.

How about a movie? And maybe a few laughs?

If that seems like the right nightcap, we recommend these romantic comedies from the past decade:


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(2004)

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst

Why: Not a romantic comedy by a strict definition, "Sunshine" contains absurdist moments and is romantic in the loftiest sense of the word. The story even opens on Valentine's Day, the busiest day of the year for its fictional memory-erasing clinic.

Director Michel Gondry works visual wonders with Charlie Kaufman's ("Adaptation") accordion script, tracking the process by which Joel (Carrey), hooked up to machines, negates his life with ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet). People's faces go from defined to blank and buildings crumble as the romance is deleted from Joel's brain.

But even as Joel recalls the relationship's worst moments, his attachment to Clementine keeps dragging him toward consciousness. That's love, baby. – C.M.


40-Year-Old Virgin

(2005)

Cast: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener

Why: Few films mix smarmy and sweet better than this charmingly debauched comedy.

In "Virgin," Carell plays Andy, an affable electronics-store drone, who, despite some attempts earlier in life, has remained a virgin. His existence is essentially one of celibate isolation, with time spent collecting action figures and watching "Survivor" with elderly neighbors.

After he accidentally reveals his secret to his crude yet concerned co-workers, they set out to help this 40-year-old wallflower bloom. Cut to the many miscues in clubs, bars, bedrooms and cars (with one especially graphic deterrent to drinking and driving involving daiquiris and shellfish).

Andy later spins into the orbit of a divorced woman (Keener) with baggage of her own, and the sparks that eventually fly come not from the friction of bodies but from the romantic warmth the couple generate.

– T.S.


Hitch

(2005)

Cast: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta

Why: "Hitch" knocks Smith off his cool game, thus endearing him to viewers in a way his action films never do.

In "Hitch," he's a "love doctor" who teaches men how to woo women. Because this is a Hollywood romantic comedy, the doctor cannot heal himself. Hitch finds a challenge in Mendes' gossip columnist, who is as commitment-phobic as he.

Their banter is smart, and the clothes and New York City locations fabulous. But the fun happens when "Hitch" pierces glossy rom-com conventions by turning the couple's outings into mishaps. Smith and Mendes take serious hits to their vanity, and their characters are forced to let down their guards and let genuine emotion in.

A second romantic story line is just as appealing. James lends fortitude to the love doctor's new client, an awkward accountant who knows he's out of his league with the celebutante (a non-airhead Valletta) he fancies, but goes for it anyway.

– C.M.


Forgetting Sarah Marshall

(2008)

Cast: Jason Segel, Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand

Why: Jason Segel ranks among the most sympathetic dump-ees in film history. That's only partly because he's naked during the entire scene in which his character, Peter, is shown the door by his callous fiancée (Bell).

A trip to Hawaii to forget his troubles lands Peter in the hotel room next door to his ex and her cheeky, slinky new rock-star boyfriend (Brand, never better). At least Peter has the resort's lovely front-desk clerk (Kunis) to soothe him.

"Sarah" established the dough-faced Segel as a likeable, legitimate leading man and sprung Brand on the world. But the revelation was Kunis, who within five minutes of screen time here permanently separated herself from her whiny teenage character on "That '70s Show."

– C.M.


Midnight in Paris

(2011)

Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates

Why: Woody Allen's 45th feature – and highest-grossing movie of his career – reveals the intellectual infidelity of nostalgia.

"Midnight" has Gil (Wilson), a dissatisfied Hollywood screen- writer, visiting the modern City of Light while time-traveling back to what would have been an ideal era for any artist – Paris in the 1920s, as part of a moveable feast with Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali and Gertrude Stein.

There, he meets and innocently falls for Adriana (Cotillard), a muse of sorts, who dreams of living in another period herself – the Belle Epoque.

Gil's temporal wanderings make him an unfaithful creature, stepping out on his materialistic girlfriend (McAdams), his day job and even the very time he inhabits, but we forgive him because of what we learn from his trips: You can only be satisfied by the present if you are actually living in it.

– T.S.

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