The Weekly Assignment: First Edition - An Unconventional Romance

February 14, 2011

Glen Hansgard & Marketa Irglova in Once

In the spirit of dedicated film students - both of the university and of the heart - I welcome you to's first ever "Weekly Assignment" - a chance to collectively watch films and collect bits of show-and-tell to share together as an assembly of cinephiles and fanboys/fangirls. Once a week I will post an "assignment", essentially a film-related activity (don't think of it as homework) and hopefully it's something that intrigues you enough to find the time to participate. The comments below will be our "class" and the place for us to discuss what we've learned! (Because the goal is to see something new every week.) It should be lots of fun!

So, onto this week's assignment: In honor of today being Valentine's Day, I propose that we do a study of unconventional romantic comedies. Don't groan, it won't be that bad. There is a seemingly endless collection of romantic comedies where boy hates girl, girl hates boys, but in the end they eventually learn to love each other. Boring. We're going to look at movies that approach romance in a more interesting way.

My Suggestion: John Carney's 2006 Oscar winning indie film Once [Amazon/Netflix], which is not only an unconventional romance but an unusual musical as well. This independent picture (with a budget of only about $150,000) follows two musicians in Dublin, a guitar-toting vacuum repairman and a Czech pianist, as they write and perform romantic ballads together. Sure, the soundtrack is incredible but there's quite a bit more to Once than just its melodies.

Glen Hansgard as "Guy" and Marketa Irglova as "Girl" have a natural chemistry on screen. (It might be due to their real-life romance.) The couple meets perchance on the streets of Dublin and immediately connects over their passion for their instruments, but both Guy and Girl are tethered to previous relationships. They tread lightly toward each other, despite being drawn like magnets, as they begin to record a demo tape. The combination of their music creates unavoidable sparks. However the film, like the couple's romance, is bare and bittersweet. Neither Hansgard nor Irglova are actors, instead they're pretending for a fellow musician's film project, and their natural, exposed vulnerabilities immediately draw the audience in. Their melancholic voices and tender instrumentals don't hurt either. Nothing about the film or the romance that it portrays is traditional, but every moment feels genuine. It's as if we are witnessing something intimate and private.

Your assignment is to watch an unconventional romance that you have never seen before and consider what makes it endearing or disastrous. It's all right to actually enjoy a few RomComs (*ahem* I'm talking to you fellas) but if they don't work for you, I want to hear that as well! My final list below should include some bearable and, I think, really enjoyable choices, but if you come up with one on your own let us know on the comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Other Unconventional Romance Suggestions to Watch: Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Serendipity, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, When Harry Met Sally, Garden State, Lost in Translation and/or Pixar's Wall-E. Have fun!

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I just wanted to have the 1st comment on your 1st article!

birddog on Feb 15, 2011


Once is one my favourite films. It's definitely worth watching (has a great soundtrack too - one of the few I've actually bought).

Sean Kelly on Feb 15, 2011


Once was absolutely amazing. I need to get the soundtrack to it. Eternal sunshine was also incredible, though I really don't throw it in with romances, though I guess looking back it kind of was. Serendipity had an awesome concept I thought, but just lacked in some bigger love element somehow.... Garden State ROCKED. Nuf said. Also congrats Cate on the new position.

Donk on Feb 15, 2011


Well I just finishes "Forget Paris" first time I ever watched it all the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed it, Crystal and Winger had great Chemistry and it was funny. The plot was great and it really had me hooked. I think what makes it so great is the ending, We see Mickey getting ready Referee an NBA game, and he finally realizes that he wants to be with Ellen, even if it means giving up his passion of being a Ref for the NBA. So there you have it, my Unconventional Romance Film. I would have gone with "I Love you Phillip Morris" but I felt "Forget Paris" would be a better choice. Most guys aren't into Romance films but I for one will watch anything as long as the plot is good. So yeah there you go, newbie.

Anonymous on Feb 15, 2011


in retrospect perhaps "Forget Paris" wasn't that Unconventional...perhaps I should have gone with "Leon" or "I Love You Phillip Morris" or "Lost and Delirious." hell I'll go ahead and Add one. The most obvious one's would of course be "Edward Scissorhands," "Interview with the Vampire," "Kill Bill," "Heathers," and "New World" The most bizarre one would be 28 Days Later...but that's too easy. So here's is my second pick, of the most Unconventional Romance...drum roll please! "The Fountain" stunning film from Darren Aronofsky, with Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman. Told in three different stories from a man named Tomas (A conquistador) Tom (An Astronaut) and Tommy (A Neuroscientist). Tomas is motivated by Queen Isabel of Spain to find the Legendary Tree of Life in "The New World" Tom is motivated to travel to Xibalba in a bubble-like space craft with the Tree of Life; It is implied that his wife is somehow alive inside the tree, but it is dying and they need to reach Xibalba in order to bring it back to life. And Tommy is motivated to find a cure for his Wife who has a brain tumor. Nice and long huh?

Anonymous on Feb 15, 2011


It's funny, I literally just watched Once. Although I'm sure I won't be the only one to mention this, but, if you could consider it to be a romance (it is about love, in a twisted sort of way), Blue Valentine is one hell of a movie. I would say that the film itself is far from endearing. However Blue Valentine's ability to evoke such deep and rather undisturbed emotions makes it worthwhile. I realize that it would be hard to see this as a romance, but hey, that's why I'm putting this on an unconventional titled article. Also, it'll be great to have a female voice on here. Cheers to you.

Tom Vatterott on Feb 15, 2011


I'm with Tom. Blue Valentine did more for me than any of those above movies. It was half of a romance movie. You got to see if built up and then torn down.

Anonymous on Feb 15, 2011


Can't wait for all the weekly assignments!!

glassysquid on Feb 15, 2011


You should put the documentary Sherman's March up there

Max on Feb 15, 2011


wow. a McElwee reference. awesome. I thought ONCE was amazing. and has a very addictive sound track. even more addicting than Garden State. I also thought this was going to be like a script writing assignment. that would be pretty cool, too.

crumb on Feb 15, 2011


im probably going to be insulted for this but "cashback" despite its rather linear and somewhat cliched look at romance its look at the male imagination and sexuality and the effect they have on romance makes it a fantastic watch for me. that being said alot of people do not like it.

LP on Feb 15, 2011


one uncommon love story that caught me by surprise was good dick. don't let the cover fool you, its a very dark, sometimes funny look at a broken women in need of love. it brings up some interesting social stereotypes involving sex and relationships. it starts off a little slow, but if you stick with it you will come away asking yourself some interesting questions.

Junebug on Feb 15, 2011


Yea, you're right. I saw Good Dick at Sundance a number of years ago, but I thought it was only okay, not that great unfortunately. I liked the unconventional romance you're talking about, there was a real quirk to it, but it just fell flat in some areas. I'm not a big fan of Jason Ritter either. Good suggestion though, check it out if you want to see something really quirky/kinky but still indie playful.

Alex Billington on Feb 15, 2011


I probably would mostly recommend the movie which surprised me a lot. Somehow I watched it not from the beginning and I was amazed by the cast and especially by the director. It's John Turturo's kind of freaky musical romance comedy Romance and Cigarettes. Got not favourable reviews, but I think it's worth attention.

richardj on Feb 15, 2011


I nominate Leaving Las Vegas.... saw it a week ago and it rocked me

Andrew Robinson on Feb 15, 2011


'This years Love is' a good Brit flick to watch.

tobyct on Feb 15, 2011


I've already seen all those films on your list, so I'll just mention one of my favorites that isn't: Punch-Drunk Love. I love all of PTA's films, but this may be my favorite out of all of his (Don't forget Magnolia). It's so quirky and the character's are all so interesting, even the small roles like his sisters and brother's in-law. I think Sandler pulls off his part perfectly. He is both strange yet fully likable to me. One of the best parts of the film, in my opinion, is how the music fits the film. At times where the story is relaxed and romantic, the music also is with the reoccurring "He Needs Me" song which I love. On the other hand, the film is many times awkward or 'claustrophobic,' and the 'music' for those scenes is loud, obnoxious, and off beat. I love quirky romantic comedies especially, and this one might be my favorite.

IanKuah on Feb 15, 2011


I agree w/ IanKuah. I'd def nominate my fav unconventional rom-coms (and just an unconventional movie in general): PUNCH DRUNK LOVE! Also, Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS. However, not that unconventional... Lastly, one of my all time favs A BRONX TALE has a romantic sub-plot that's highly unconventional, especially in the context of that era.

G. Wills on Feb 15, 2011


ONCE is a fantastic movie, indeed. So are many of the others listed as well. A couple I'd like to mention: - PETER AND VANDY. Its plot might sound a little bit like 500 DAYS OF SUMMER ("love story in disorder"), but while I liked 500 DAYS, I found PETER & VANDY to be much "better" (stars Jason Ritter, but don't let that stop you ;p) - THE FREEBIE. Another great one, about a perfectly happy couple (at the beginning) that starts talking about, and going for, giving each other a "freebie" for one night...

fred on Feb 15, 2011


this is a good idea love it 😀

A5J4DX on Nov 13, 2018


this is a good idea love it 😀

A5J4DX on Nov 13, 2018


Does Misery counts as an "unconventional love story"? How 'bout Amelie?

Andy on Feb 15, 2011


Woah, you all are building quite the unconventional romance list and fast! I have compiled the many suggestions below, but want to remind everyone that the fun part is picking one of the titles you've never seen before and watching it for the first time! I'm so glad you all have some really great movies to add to the genre! Compiled List (so far, and please read through each other's suggestions): Amelie, Peter and Vandy, The Freebie, Punch Drunk Love, Sideways, A Bronx Tale, This Year's Love, Leaving Las Vegas, Cashback, Sherman's March (doc), Good Dick (not porn, or so I've been told), Blue Valentine, Forget Paris, I Love You Phillip Morris, Lost and Delirious, Edward Scissorhands, Interview with a Vampire, Heathers, The New World, and The Fountain.

CisforCinema on Feb 16, 2011


All The Real Girls is sorta like that from memory Before Sunrise/Sunset series is one of my personal favorites, amazing dialogue and chemistry!

Josveta on Feb 16, 2011


Show Me Love. 1998 film from Sweden about two disparate teenage girls who start a relationship. While there are some scenes of homophobia that can be somewhat confronting, the way the development of the girl's relationship is handled is subtle, and wonderful. What I love about it, is that it is one of the few 'romance' films I've every enjoyed, because it is honest - loving someone isn't easy, especially so in the case of young gay people. Also of note are the cast, I'm pretty sure all the actors were approximate in age to the characters portrayed, and the performances all have an honesty and legitimacy that is palpable. Combined with some great cinematography of icy, isolated Swedish towns and an ending that made me happy about about life. Also, hurray for this idea! Firstshowing could use some film school wankery, especially with the generally populist thrust of the posting on here (not hating). Looking forward to further posts!

Lebowski on Feb 16, 2011

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