Make the Case: 7 Movies Where Love Gets Weird

Of course Nic Cage is here.

Leaving Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas

Somehow, across nearly 100 columns, we’ve never really explored unusual cinematic love stories. Or at least my definition of movies with weird love stories. This is another category with a number of different interpretations, as well as dozens of possible titles to recommend. So as always, this is just a quick study on my particular answer to what I personally like with movies in which an unusual love story is the centerpiece of the narrative.

We can talk about movies with a love story that’s offbeat, but nonetheless charming. We may also get into love stories that are as bizarre as they are toxic. Romance isn’t the first word I think of when I go for something to watch. Of course, I still appreciate and often enjoy the many ways in which love and relationships of all possible kinds, even platonic (which is still a type of love), can be expressed in film. I like the stories where I have someone to root for, as much as I like the stories where I may like or at least find fascination with the characters, but they aren’t people I’d want to know in actual waking life.

I’m open to anything movies can tell me about the subject of love, and I’ll filter that through my own brand of weird. This isn’t a ranking, but just seven movies I felt like mentioning. Secretary is a good example of what I like, but I’d rather focus on films that I don’t get to talk about as much. Let me know which movies you’d pick for movies with weird love stories or unconventional romantic pairings.


1. Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart

Director: David Lynch

Taking the book in Barry Gifford’s essential Sailor and Lula novels, and going in a direction that leaves you feeling as though you just lived through a comprehensive nightmare, Wild at Heart is also one of the most romantic movies David Lynch has made to date.

Recently paroled murderer Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and a young, sometimes frighteningly wild Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) are deeply devoted to one another. Their relationship has survived Sailor going to prison for murdering a would-be assassin hired by Lula’s mother (Laura Dern’s actual mother Diane Ladd). It seems poised to survive anything. Even the absolutely soul-shrieking madness that we’re about to watch them endure.

Wild at Heart is relatively easy to keep up with, in case the name David Lynch intimidates you for some reason. For those who haven’t seen one of my favorite cinematic love stories, you’re in for one of the best from Cage, Dern, and just about everyone involved in this film.


2. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Ricky (Antonio Banderas in one of his best early roles) is released from a mental institution. He immediately renews his pursuit of an actress named Marina (Victoria Abril), who he believes is the love of his life. They did in fact get together a long time ago, but she doesn’t particularly remember him or anything from a period she has desperately tried to put behind her. Ricky’s dreams are intense enough, but it’s how far he’s willing to take them that makes up the exponentially deranged love story Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The other half of this movie is Victoria Abril as Marina, giving us a performance and character who adapt to their co-star and character’s situation in ever surprising ways.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! takes darker dives into its romantic and comedic components than some might be comfortable with. There’s an audacity to how this narrative rolls along on its distinctly brave storytelling path. That’s fun in of itself but Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! also highlights its script, editing, and the impressive depth of the peoples depicted.


3. Love Me if You Dare (2003)

Love Me if You Dare (2003)
Love Me if You Dare (2003)

Director: Yann Samuell

Love Me if You Dare is a love story between two people (Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard) who have been playing a deceptively simple game since childhood. They dare each other to do various challenges and tasks.

Where the movie gets meaner than most covers two realities: They can’t stop playing this game with each other, well into adulthood, and they also can’t stop raising the stakes. This competition soon swirls into its own mutant form of passion. It’s easy to get caught up in their madness at times.

I suppose I’ve always had an affinity for love stories that can be, to put it gently, toxic. Now that this interest is no longer actively ruining my health and life, I find myself still able to appreciate these sorts of movies. Love Me if You Dare isn’t anything you’d want to actually go through, but the results here of seeing what might actually happen between people devoted in this fashion are remarkable.


4. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas

Director: Mike Figgis

Movies like Leaving Las Vegas are seemingly built to prove that there are limits to what even weirdos like me are willing to romanticize. There’s lots of romantic slants on doomed relationships, self-destructive men, and even just plain ol’ alcoholism. Leaving Las Vegas isn’t one of them. Its commitment to being unflinchingly bleak and grounded to the point of creating an almost tangible sense of despair, Leaving Las Vegas is perhaps one of the bravest mainstream films released in the 90s.

Nicolas Cage rightly won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas as a wounded, sometimes hideous alcoholic who has committed for one reason or another to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. He meets a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue, who should have won an Oscar), who herself struggles with the violent, unpredictable nature of her work.

Their relationship is as beautiful as it is awful, and the movie impressively never stylizes suffering or teases hope. It simply creates the unforgettable illusion that things are unfolding naturally.


5. Kissed (1996)

Kissed (1996)
Kissed (1996)

Director: Lynne Stopkewich

If you’ve seen the 1996 indie gem Kissed, then you already know it just might be even darker than Leaving Las Vegas. It’s certainly weirder in its story of a woman named Sandra (Moly Parker, who’s been killing it in TV and film for decades now) and her journey in taking a profound fascination with death to actual necrophilia.

Don’t worry, this isn’t Nekromantik. You’re not going to see anything too extreme here. Kissed instead goes for supreme creepiness just for being so relentlessly, quietly, and intensely intimate with its subject matter and characters. Sandra isn’t an evil person. Molly Parker’s performance finds a woman whose choices are unquestionably a singular brand of horrific (and presumably unsanitary, but who actually wants to find out), but who is in all other regards just a young person obsessed with love.

It’s just, you know, different, to put it mildly. Kissed is a love story that stands alone for good or ill. I still haven’t seen anything quite like this film.


6. Harold and Maude (1971)

Harold and Maude (1971)
Harold and Maude (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby

Choosing the 1971 example of a true cult classic Harold and Maude is a little bit of a cliché. When it comes to movies with unusual romantic plots or love stories, this is a movie that is almost always mentioned. That’s okay. We’re going to talk about it a little more because I never get sick of these two. Some movies inevitably age too much for me, become annoying, and lose the elements that may have appealed to me at a different time in my life.

Harold and Maude is not one of those movies. No matter how much I change, I still not only see the movie as being beautifully acted, directed, written, and paced, but also its sweetness and likability.

There’s nothing super deep about Harold and Maude. Harold (Bud Cort) is another youth on this list obsessed with death. He meets an old woman named Maude (the endlessly brilliant Ruth Gordon), and their developing relationship changes how he perceives everything around him. Harold and Maude are interesting enough on their own. It’s when their love brings them together on screen that this becomes a movie that’s still offbeat and touching.


7. 84 Charing Cross Road (1984)

84 Charing Cross Road (1984)
84 Charing Cross Road (1984)

Director: David Jones

The platonic love and friendship in 84 Charing Cross Road are qualities I’ve always been able to appreciate. This movie is based on a non-fiction book by Helen Hanff, who made a career out of writing some of the best American non-fiction of her day. Her book was literally just a collection of letters, and the stage play and eventual 1987 film inspired by this work don’t deviate from that simplicity too much.

At the same time, 84 Charing Cross Road does offer plenty of character and background for Hanff (played here to endearing perfection by Anne Bancroft) and her exchanges with a London bookseller (Anthony Hopkins in a pleasing and understated performance). Their relationship does not become a romance, and the movie doesn’t try to pretend there’s one implied either.

Yet there is very clearly a love and affection that develops and can be felt in every written conversation they share. It’s just not romantic, and I don’t know if we appreciate love and intimacy between friends in film enough. Especially when it’s people of two different genders.

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