We’ve all been there, every one of us. Maybe the relationship is cruising along gamely, or maybe you’re trying to keep it together with everything you’ve got. But sooner or later, everyone gets dumped. And around these parts, we have a healthy respect for the restorative power of movies on the brokenhearted, whether you’re wallowing in self-pity or burning old photos in effigy. Everyone has something they turn to in the aftermath of getting kicked to the curb: a movie where everything works out, one where everything falls apart, or one of the stories where things are left beautifully unresolved. With all that in mind, we here at Pajiba offer our selection of films for the aftermath of the break-up, no matter how it went down.
War of the Roses (1989): Back in the day, after a particularly painful break-up, I had a recipe for getting over them. I’d spend exactly one full day sad, pathetic, wallowing in my misery, and feeling sorry for myself. After that 24-hour period, I’d turn it all into blinding, seething hatred. It always made me feel better. And I am of the opinion that you need to really fucking hate someone before you can truly get over them. And if you truly want to hate, there’s no better movie than Danny De Vito’s deliciously dark comedy, War of the Roses. Romancing the Stone represented the courtship of Michael Dougles and Kathleen Turner, Jewel of the Nile was their marriage, and War of the Roses was their ugly, throw-shit-at-each-other divorce. It is two hours of contempt and unrelenting hatred. The divorcing couple takes everything that they have learned about each other over the years of their marriage and violently throws it all back in each other’s faces, finding every weak point, taunting one another with delectable spite. It is cathartic. And grimly funny. All great marriages should end with as much passion as they began with, and in the case of the Roses, the death of their marriage is more than metaphorical. Also, besides the commentary it makes on yuppie materialism, War of the Roses instructs you on the one thing you should never ask a spouse: “What the hell is wrong with you?” That’s a question you never want answered. — Dustin Rowles
If Lucy Fell (1996): My choice isn’t based so much on quality so much as personal experience. When I was a sophomore in college, I went through a particularly devastating breakup and probably watched this movie at least ten times in the aftermath. In retrospect, it was all for the best, as I stayed friends with the guy and he turned out to be this right-wing asshole who sent me racist emails about Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. (We no longer speak.) At any rate, If Lucy Fell is about two best friends and roommates, Lucy (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Joe (Eric Shaeffer), who make a suicide pact that if they’re both single by Lucy’s 30th birthday, they’re going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Spoiler alert! The movie predictably ends up with the two friends kissing on the bridge. As an added bonus, it boasts a spectacularly schmoopy soundtrack by the 1990s soft-alt band Marry Me Jane, who sing nothing but weepy breakup songs the entire movie. It’s not a great movie, and it’s probably not even a good movie, but you know what? It sure as hell did the trick for me. And it even features a young, pre-rack Scarlett Johansson! — Stacey Nosek
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): Most women have a Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in their past. You know the type: devastatingly handsome, impossibly smooth, and a total cad. The Daniel Cleaver is instantly recognizable, say, from the moment the elevator opens, and, should you choose to accept his proffered ride, it will be a glorious two weeks of thrilling, mind-obliterating sex before, oh look, he’s banging some American stick insect. Of course, you knew this moment of realization was inevitable, but that didn’t stop the Daniel Cleaver from infiltrating the
panties premises. The thing is, when society looks down upon a thirtysomething singleton, one becomes rather desperate to ignore the warning signs of a Daniel Cleaver, which, preferably sooner than later, will unfailingly result in misery. Hell, it’s not nearly as awful to be a thirtysomething singleton as it is to be a thirtysomething divorcee and, eventually, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) figures this out, as well as the fact that she should have given the slightly dull Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) more of a chance beforehand. A constant stream of absurdity — including the fight scene, the slightly obnoxious yet supportive friends, the discovery of the diary, and a brisk run through the snow in a sweater and knickers — allows this movie to escape the clichés, irritating preciousness, and rampant sexism to which most romantic comedies fall prey. Finally, there are those knee-weakening last moments when Bridget says, “Nice boys don’t kiss like that,” to which Mark Darcy replies, “Oh yes, they fucking do.” That, right there, is enough to allow me, at least for a few hours, to forget that Daniel Cleaver ever fucking existed. — Agent Bedhead
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): My tendency when down is to reach for romance flicks that make me feel even worse about myself — ones that evoke that bottomless feeling of longing in your stomach and heart and head. I then pour myself into the tales of unrequited love, feeling the protagonist’s angst tear for tear. Oh, emotional cutting. Research shows movies like that aren’t always good for you. It’s true! So, I’m learning to avoid the pain-inducing tendencies by watching movies more realistic about life and love and the choices we make. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry’s (and Charlie Kaufman’s) 2004 gem, represents perfectly the beautiful disasters we create through relationships, romantic and otherwise, with its look at the oddly matched Joel (Jim Carrey in the best thing he’ll ever do) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), who each opt to have their memories of each other erased after their painful breakup. As each memory of Joel’s slips away, though, he and Clementine — in a Kaufmanesque manner — view with new eyes everything they in fact had as a couple, and they can’t help but be drawn to each other all over again. A secondary plot ends the same way, with a girl (Kirsten Dunst) again loving the man (Tom Wilkinson) she had erased from her mind. In a depressed state you could take these plots the wrong way, in that you’ll never get over your former love, but it’s best to view the positive truths they represent on what it means to love unconditionally. It is not about loving someone in spite of their flaws; their flaws come with the package. You just love them, and that’s why we all take the gamble in the first place. And if the person who just broke your heart can’t see that, well, screw them. You’re better off without them, right? … Right? — Sarah Carlson
Swingers (1996): With all the beautiful baby swing-a-ding-ding, “You’re so money” gab, and a boy named Sue shooting House of Pain in WeHo just to watch him die, it’s easy to forget that Swingers is all about getting over a breakup. Mike (Jon Favreau, who wrote the script) hangs with Trent (Vince Vaughn, who will never surpass this role as long as he breathes oxygen) and the boys because he’s in mourning over being dumped by his long-distance girlfriend, Michelle. He’s been out of the game so long he doesn’t know how to talk to the L.A. women, mostly because they’re only interested in the type of car you drive or whether or not you’re excited because they’re wearing a backpack. When Trent finds him a girl, all he can talk about is the breakup. When he finds a girl on his own, he instantly fucks it up with one of the most painful answering machine message sequences in the history of cinema. Mike sinks into depression, only to be brought out of it by his friend Rob (Ron Livingston), who comes bearing orange juice, bologna, and this nugget of wisdom that still rings true: “She won’t call because you left. She’s got her own life to deal with, man, and that’s in New York. And she’s a sweet girl, and I love her to pieces, but fuck her, man. You gotta get on with your life. You gotta let go of the past. And Mikey, when you do, I’m telling you: the future is beautiful.” Mike finally puts aside all his bullshit, nuts up, and meets the wonderful Lorraine (Heather Graham). And when Michelle finally does call, he’s on the other line with Lorraine, and that moment becomes a victory for every guy who’s missed a girl he used to love. — Brian Prisco
Dancer in the Dark (2000): The cardinal rule of Bad Days: plunk down with comfort food and a film about people with problems way bigger than yours, because nothing nourishes the soul more than Doritos and a bit of perspective. Horror movies tend to do the trick, or documentaries about life in Freetown or Dharavi. But if you’ve been dumped, you’re probably in a world of narcissistic wound-licking that can’t be penetrated by anything less than a jackhammer. You need affect, dammit — visual, auditory and emotional. Cartoon frights or tidy socio-political facts are easily outgunned by the monster inside you howling to be purged, and when it’s time to get the cleansing started, tear-duct activation is Priority One. If you’re too grown up for Old Yeller or Born Free (and I suppose being dumped grows one up fast), look to the dreary Dane, Lars Von Trier, for succor. Dancer in the Dark ignited countless conversation contests about just how hard viewers sobbed when Björk exalted about seeing it all; cheating boy- and girlfriends shrink down to small fry next to the prospect of bleak factory work, blindness, and the death penalty. Selma (Björk) may have found relief in the Tinker Bell world of musicals, but there’s relief in Dogme realism, too, if you need more than a dancing hat and cane to distract you from a heavy heart. The John Hughes classics are fun little pills to pop when life’s upside-down, but let’s be frank: Sometimes only a truly masterful, truly transcendent movie can draw us out of the world — and out of ourselves — long enough to start the healing process in earnest. — Ranylt Richildis
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994): There are a distressingly finite number of perfect moments in cinema, which is surprising given the amount of resources expended on films and the number of pictures made every year. Even more precious are those few instances where actor and words intersect at such a perfect angle that they form an arrowhead piercing through the bullshit and cynicism of film romance, piercing through to the viewer’s heart and soul. Near the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Matthew (John Hannah) delivers the eulogy for his fallen lover, Gareth. Through all the brainless (endearing, but brainless) antics of their straight friends, through all the clueless (hilarious, but clueless) coupling of the mostly heterosexual circle they complete, Matthew and Gareth quietly abided in a domestic bliss not acknowledged or encouraged by their society. As Hugh Grant muses, “All these years we’ve been single and proud of it and never noticed that two of us were, in effect, married all this time.” There is no scene in all of cinema that so lovingly pulls back the curtain of howling loneliness and fear of bereavement as when Matthew begins his halting, Scot-burred observation of the loss of Gareth, in “the words of another splendid bugger,” W.H. Auden:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,
bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let the aeroplanes circle, moaning overhead,
scribbling on the sky the message, “He is dead.”
Put crepe bows ‘round the white necks of the public doves,
let traffic policemen wear black, cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East, and West,
my working week and my Sunday rest,
my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
for nothing now can ever come to any good.
— Ted Boynton
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008): As with all good break-up tales, the pain and pleasure in Forgetting Sarah Marshall come from brutal, awkward experience. Star Jason Segel put actual autobiographical bits in the film, yes — the scene where he gets dumped while sitting naked on a couch came from his own life — but far more resonant is the way he’s able to communicate the various stages of confusion, denial, anger, and gradual acceptance and maturation as his Peter Bretter learns to deal with life without Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). There’s a temptation to wallow when you’ve been dumped, to overcome the grief by sleeping around, and to focus your resentment into anger at your ex; Peter does all of this, having ample opportunity to deal with his feelings while on a Hawaiian vacation next door to Sarah and her new man. But the film’s a great comedy, turning that rejection into weird and sharp humor, as it does in “Dracula’s Lament.” The movie is also the perfect fit for the newly single because its hero sets out to do exactly what the title says: Forget the old girl and move on with his life. The best moments in the film are when Peter’s closer to moving on than he ever though possible but is dangerously close to being pulled back into his ex’s orbit, and everyone can relate to the hellish choice between the unhealthy but easy and the fulfilling but hard. It’s impossible right after you’re cut loose and set to wander to do anything but live in the past, but the only way forward is to look to the bright future. This is one of those movies that reminds you how to do that. — Daniel Carlson
High Fidelity (2000): High Fidelity is a good movie about relationships generally — about the things that attract people to each other, the difficulty in staying together, the alternating pettiness and profundity of love. But since the story is structured around John Cusack’s Rob trying to come to terms with past loves, it’s maybe best described as a break-up movie. And its most valuable piece of break-up wisdom — a moment that briefly stings, and then soothes — comes when Rob is talking to his old flame, Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), after a dinner party. In voice-over, he realizes that “Charlie’s awful. She doesn’t listen to anyone, she says terrible, stupid things, and she apparently has no sense of humor at all.” This is not a universal experience — meeting someone again after a long time apart and loathing them — but the scene concisely speaks to the futility in pining for the past. Odds are, the past has had some work done. Earlier in the movie (and its source, Nick Hornby’s novel), Rob is astonished to find that Charlie is listed in the phone book. She’s become a “myth” in his head, someone who should be living in a distant galaxy, not listed in the White Pages. If you watch High Fidelity in the immediate wake of a break-up, the “Charlie is awful” moment won’t make much of an impression. But if you watch it several years after a break-up, with no need or expectation of relevant resonance, you might just nod along with Rob’s epiphany: that myths aren’t worth the time. — John Williams