Ah, Valentine's Day. Whether you're in a relationship or out of one, 14th February seems to bring with it a specific set of minefields. Gift, or no gift? Marks and Spencer dine in for two deal, or Marks and Spencer dine in for two deal, eaten by one (they’re serving guidelines, after all)? Casual social media humblebrag (hashtag boy done good, sigh) or radio silence across all platforms?
Whatever Valentine’s template you’ll be following (or, you know, studiously not following) we can at least make one decision a little easier for you: namely, the film you’ll end up watching, whether that’s with a significant other, a group of friends (we won’t do you the disservice of referring to them as your Galentines, because we're all grown-ups here) or by yourself. Our selection criteria? We’ve steered away from anything overly romantic in favour of the kind of uplifting films that’ll leave your heart warmed to an appropriate level, whatever your relationship status. Thank us later.
Before Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig put the ins and outs of twenty-something female friendships under the microscope in Frances Ha. Shot in black and white and co-written with her partner Noah Baumbach, we follow aspiring dancer Frances as she navigates that inevitable but no less heartbreaking shift that occurs when your closest friend settles into a serious relationship. Sometimes, it's easy to feel like you're missing every 'adult' milestone that your friends are effortlessly breezing through: with its balance of whimsical humour and wry self-awareness, Frances Ha is the film to remind you that it's OK to find your own rhythm.
The Big Sick
Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in and out of love, girl develops rare and vicious auto-immune disease and falls into a coma. It's a rom-com of sorts, but last year's sleeper hit The Big Sick is so charming - and mercifully free from Hallmark card schmaltz - that it'll win over the coldest of cold-hearted of cynics. Co-written by Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, it's a memorable and moving rendition of their real-life romance (with Zoe Kazan standing in for Emily on screen) that'll probably-definitely make you cry (but in, you know, a happy sort of way).
Thanks to Saoirse Ronan's lead performance, Brooklyn is a film to be treasured. Adapted from the novel by Colm Toibin, it follows Eilis, an Irish girl who leaves her small hometown to cross the Atlantic and make a new life for herself in '50s New York, tentatively finding her feet (and falls in love) before a family tragedy forces her to return home. Unashamedly emotive without ever feeling gushily sentimental, Brooklyn's charm lies in that fact that it's very much a brilliant coming-of-age story first and a love story second.
If you can beg, steal or borrow a Netflix log in, there's no excuse for not watching Sing Street, a charmingly lo-fi musical set in 1980s Dublin that continues to fly inexplicably under the radar. You could sum it up as a high school La La Land with the DIY spirit of something like Son of Rambow (also lovely, also set in the '80s and also under-watched) but that might be over-complicating things: Sing Street is the story of an awkward teen who decides that the surest route to winning over an out-of-his-league love interest is to form a band, complete with earworm '80s hits, backyard videos shot on camcorders and adolescent angst. As close to televisual dopamine as you can get.
Based on an autobiographical essay by journalist Lynn Barber, An Education basically kick-started Carey Mulligan's screen career, which is certainly something to be thankful for. That aside, it's a coming-of-age tale that's by turns winningly breezy and painfully dark, following 16-year-old Jenny as she's taken in by a smooth-talking older man. In a similar vein to Brooklyn (both films were sensitively adapted for the screen by author Nick Hornby) though, this isn't a story about love so much as it is about a young woman growing in self-awareness.
What's not to like about a film that finally gives proper recognition to a group of female mathematicians that history has largely forgotten? The names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson - the women whose number-crunching helped America win the space race – aren't yet household names, but thanks to Hidden Figures, that's changing. A feel-good film that also touches on the era's fraught racial politics, it made quite rightly made major inroads at the box office on both sides of the Atlantic last year – if you haven't already watched it, do so ASAP for an instant I-can-do-anything mood boost.
Bend It Like Beckham
If your go-to uplifting comfort watch is an American high school movie or Noughties classic in the vein of Legally Blonde, may we recommend that you revisit a brilliant nostalgic gem from this side of Atlantic, namely Bend It Like Beckham? Over 15 years later, Gurinder Chadha's culture-clash football comedy is still hilarious and uplifting. Plus, did you even realise at the time that All Saints' Shaznay Lewis plays one of Jess's teammates? Youth is wasted on the young.