by Paul Deeter
There's nothing that quite hits you in the feels like a romance movie. While not all of us are fans of the genre, every so often a romantic subplot in a drama film or an arc on a TV show can just get hold of us in a certain way. We find ourselves rooting for the lovers to survive, to secure the future of their relationship despite the toughest of odds. And what's a good romance movie, without a completely twisted set of odds? It's hard to scroll in any direction on Netflix or Hulu, or once upon a time, walk down the hall of a theater without passing the latest romance feature advertised. They're such a guaranteed audience approved genre they've rooted an arc into pretty much every young adult novel or series in the world. Young romance is often glamorized with new and alternative takes on traditional meet-cutes, and high-school popularity issues woven into a narrative about teenage insecurities. They can be done very well like in The Spectacular Now and Love, Simon, but without a twist on the genre like a reason to split them up or an impossible factor to overcome there's a lot of un-originality in the market. I'm not standing on a soapbox and announcing myself, Paul: The definitive voice on teenage romance stories, but it doesn't take a nuanced film critic to tell that the films that succeed are the ones that throw our female protagonists into jungles and have them kill each other for their lover to survive. (Okay maybe that's an extreme example).
Young adult stories are endlessly tuned into large audiences of insecure and confused teenagers who just need some validation along with representation on screen or page. So with older-targeted romance films, or one's gauged at the audiences of twenty-thirty somethings out of college and lost in the world, these films have a tougher time making themselves stand out. It's not the 90s or 80s anymore, and films like Ghost and Dirty Dancing are been there and done that takes on the genre. Everyone want's the alternative love story, traditional romance is boring without a twist. While R-Rated films can push the envelope by upping the S&M factor and getting naughty with the rating, the use of sex and nudity can often push the film closer to be smutty then telling a real story. So what are we left with then? Are there no original ideas, or are we just having trouble weeding out the good from the bad. When the target audiences are so drastically different, it's hard to find yourself as a watcher from a third, more middling perspective.
Now here are the "gloomers" the audience members of a certain age who fall into the millennial age bracket and feel a part of the lost generation. We exist between the Internet's example of "doomers" or Gen X of an earlier birth-decade, who have similar approaches to the mentality of the hopelessness of life and the outcome of the world for it, and "zoomers" who are the young-born post 2000 next generation that's not lived long enough to be un-optimistic and perhaps were born after some major U.S. disasters. I am a 29-year old college graduate who's working on pushing ideas and thoughts out daily through a blog that I can estimate has quite the modest audience size. I've been through multiple jobs, relationships, mental health issues and various life changes. While I don't think I'm a Doomer, I share some of the pessimism that comes with it, so I feel a little more in-tune with the idea of the Gloomer. And what would you have it Urban Dictionary clarifies:
"Gloomer refers to several Wojak characters spread on 4chan describing young adults between ages 22 and 27 who lead an antisocial and uninspired life that may be a consequence...of eccentric tastes, and chronic anhedonia that alienate the Gloomer from the community" - Urban Dictionary.
"Hey Gary, that's me!" Yeah, two years past the average but similar in the feeling of not being able to keep up with the two generations we are stuck between, and the overall generalization it comes with. So we're not necessarily young enough to enjoy teenager love stories, nor old enough to understand or relate to those who end up marrying the manic-pixie dream girl they met a week ago at the local coffee shop.
BUT FEAR NOT! (At least keep fearing, just not about what I'm going to discuss.)
Here are a list of 4 specifically moody, overwhelmingly bleak or doomed to fail romance movies, that are sure to itch that sweet spot for those who aren't in the mood for love. While I kept away from some anti-romance films like Blue Valentine or Blue is the Warmest Color I tried to keep the list appropriately modern and featuring a decent amount of films that are independently or commercially acclaimed. The shared idea of these films is love with an end in sight, or missed chances and lovers lost in time. So gloom and doom away readers at the following features.
Atonement (2007) curated for the historical drama gloomer.
"Oh why won't my almost lover return home from the war?" Here's a film dedicated to the idea of a fleeting opportunity for romance lost due to a misconception by a young girl, and a lie that seals it. With two stars like Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy burning up the screen with visual lust for one another, it's heartbreaking to so immediately see them torn away by decades of war and misfortune, especially when it's seen through the eyes of a young girl who made a mistake. The film wraps in a dreary way I won't go into, but I will note this movie was financially successful and did well in the nominations department at the Academy Awards in 2007. It's adapted from a tear-jerky novel by the same name by Ian McEwan, and the film is directed gorgeously by Joe Wright. It's easy on the eyes, and heavy on the heart strings.
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
curated for the still not over high-school Gloomer.
Look, there's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and there's well. The other one. I'm not saying the two can't coexist but the fan base of (the other one) way outsells this film which was also based on a book, and that's okay. For one, Earl doesn't pretend to be a romance film, and even states that the "dying girl" is the friend that the protagonist was doomed to have, not the girlfriend or lover. But let's be honest. The two tend to avoid their awkwardness to focus on movie-making and amateur directing to distract the fact that the dying girl, Rachel, has cancer. And as this movie knows that it's playing to an alternative more independent audience, it has fun playing homage to classic films in their adventures with a cheap camera and their imagination. Earl and Rachel and our lead Greg basically recreate films like 8 1/2, The Shining and Breathless so closely shot by shot, that its amazing when we are witness to Greg's gift to Rachel, a present in the form of a film. You can probably guess where this is going, and if you're like me and are cynical about the idea of a fairy-tale romance or the idea of loves battle with cancer, you will cry. It doesn't hurt that the film's final moments use Brian Eno's "The Big Ship" track while we watch our protagonists watch their movie. It's, a lot.
3. Call Me By Your Name (2017) curated for the well-traveled gay gloomer.
Call Me By Your Name is an unrelenting assault on the heart, told through a not quite forbidden, but also kind of frowned upon romance. There have been articles (even quite recently about the film's costar) that have debated whether or not the film's merits should be held up given the controversy of the performers, or the fact that the point of view of this story romanticizes a relationship that can be seen by most as a grooming situation. So, I won't dive into just what my thoughts are on this film, although I am curious to watch it again, 3 years later, with a different perspective. In 2017, I loved it, but the reason I most loved it was because of Timothee Chalamet, who portrays the 17-year old Elio. Elio is charismatic and has swagger, he feels like a genius and stud among the young kids his age in Italy. However, he is also masking a deep insecurity about his sexuality, trying and failing to pursue romance with a girl. It's in the beautiful shots of 80s Italy, the art and architecture surrounding their life and the quiet contemplative soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens that the film succeeds, regardless of its problems. And while I might catch some heat noting that this is a recommendation after having written a list about problematic romance films, I do think it falls into the film for gloomer category, right down to the tearful fireplace POV of young Elio in the ending shot of the film.
4. Searching for a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
curated for the gloomer who also identifies as a doomer.
Here's one you may have missed. For the true "Doomers" as well, this film could not be less subtle about the idea that time and life is truly fleeting. This film which came and went in 2012, despite having star leads like Kiera Knightley and Steve Carrell, did not do well financially, and was even considered lukewarm by most critics. However, gloomer reader, I happened to like this film quite a bit for its hopeless road-trip story. They both have a destination, but its also clear that they're aware that one way or another, everyone's coming to the same one. This movie also came out in 2012, and a year of definite anxiety in my life, so the idea of the world ending and nothing, was something that kind of freaked me out when I saw this as a screener for the radio station I worked at. And despite some narrative flaws and tonal issues, the movie does not pull any punches. It also sticks the landing, unafraid of its own bleakness, and finding comfort in the end of the road. And there's some beauty in sharing that sentiment, even among an Internet-nicknamed group of twenty-somethings, that we're all on this road together.
Now I'm going to go cry in front of a fireplace.