REVIEW: Romantic movies, spirited music can rock your Valentine’s Day

Lara Jean Covey (Lara Candor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) agree to a contract that creates for them a fake relationship that soon transforms into the real thing in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.’ Promotional artwork courtesy of Overbrook Entertainment.

Whether it makes your heart flutter or your eyes roll in dismay, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. A holiday full of flowers, chocolates, and no shortage of hearts everywhere you look. But this year may be the best opportunity to skip the dinner reservation and elaborate plans to have a perfect date, and instead turn on a heartwarming movie to remind you of the power of love. But what’s a love story if it isn’t accompanied by a soundtrack full of songs you’ll be humming for the rest of the week? 

Let’s take a look at some movies to keep your heart beating and your toes tapping this Valentine’s Day. 

If I Stay (2014)

Based on Gayle Forman’s novel of the same name, If I Stay follows teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) as her life suddenly hangs in the balance after she and her family are in a fatal car crash. The story is split between Mia’s current reality in a coma at the hospital and in reliving her memories with those she loves. Despite the emotional nature of the story, the film still leaves room for laughter and smiles as Mia recalls both joyful and stressful moments throughout her life. Eventually Mia’s past inner conflict comes to the surface, as her memories reach a climax of having to decide between pursuing her love of playing the cello at Juilliard or prioritizing her already limited time with her boyfriend Adam as his up and coming band rises to stardom. Before Mia can address this decision though, she must first decide whether or not to wake up in her hospital bed. 

The story approaches the serious topics of grief and loss in an honest manner, showing the gray area between feeling love as well as pain. These heavy topics are also balanced out by very real day to day problems that teenagers face regarding college decisions and the fears that come along with falling in love. Shot with the beautiful backdrop of Portland scenery, lovable characters, and an especially strategic use of lighting to show Mia’s back-and-forth between deciding her own fate, If I Stay creates a love story — and not just the romantic kind. Mia’s bond with love interest Adam, her best friend, her parents, her grandparents, and even her cello culminate to make a beautiful story teeming with all different kinds of love.  

In conjunction with the wide range of emotions tackled in this film is a wide range of music to go along with it. With the two main characters Mia and Adam both being musicians themselves, it provides the perfect opportunity for their characters to be reflected within the soundtrack, and the compositions go above and beyond expectations. Instead of just bringing some classical music together with some alternative rock to represent Mia and Adam’s different styles, Adam’s fictional band Willamette Stone has multiple songs throughout the movie that act as stepping stones within the story. The first song by his band plays, “I Want What You Have,” is the perfect introduction to Adam’s style and it also serves as a juxtaposition of Mia and Adam, with her being so focused on classical music and him being all in on rock. This separation between the two of them becomes the main conflict of the movie and the way it is subtelly introduced through the mediums that the main characters already use effectively makes the conflict feel natural rather than forced. The most emotional song of the film and one of the final songs from Willamette Stone is the track “Today,” which plays during the flashback to a bonfire with Mia and Adam before they have a falling out with each other. As Adam sings, “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known, can’t wait for tomorrow, I might not have that long,” his sheer emotion is astounding. This song being at the end of the movie works perfectly, and it also ties the soundtrack together as a whole.

This Valentine’s Day whether you want the romantics or the deep connection of love that connects an individual to so many others, or you simply want an emotional tear jerker, you won’t be disappointed with If I Stay

If I Stay is rated PG-13. 

Love, Simon (2018)

Moving into the realm of more innocent love stories, Love, Simon delivers a heartwarming film about the triumphs and sorrows of first love through protagonist Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) as he struggles to come out as gay to his friends and family, all while falling head over heels for mysterious pen pal “Blue” over email exchanges. Simon’s story is not unlike that of many closeted teenagers who feel pressured to not shake up the dynamic of their relationships with loved ones by coming out. Despite the film’s (accidental) insinuation that you’re either gay or completely “normal,” the themes of love and acceptance shine through as Simon works tirelessly to find confidence in himself while facing a heteronormative high school culture. 

Perhaps what stands out most about this film is the effort it makes to keep the same upbeat tone that other teen movies tend to have, making it very clear that this story will not be a tragedy. The movie asserts early on through the bright lighting, cute montages, and iced coffee runs that this story will be full of the same amount of laughs, awkward moments, and youthful bliss as all other movies that celebrate teenage life. Along with the bright overall tone, the film also makes use of varying lighting and setting choices to show the emotions of characters.  When Simon faces inner conflict regarding his sexuality and struggling to accept himself, the lighting surrounding him becomes darker and he often ends up alone in his room, all of which conveys the loneliness and isolation he feels. On the flip side, every time Simon chats with Blue, his pen pal is cast in a blue light, evoking a sense of curiosity and excitement as Simon continues to grow closer to his secretive companion. 

In accordance with the themes of acceptance, progressiveness, and coming of age, the film’s soundtrack succeeds in using music to set the tone of various scenes effectively while still using modern sounds on many tracks to keep the contemporary feel of the movie intact. A track that perfectly sets the scene is Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” which plays when Simon is imagining an alternate version of himself who is completely comfortable with his sexuality. Listening to this song on its own already instills utter joy into the listener with groovy synths and Houston’s infectious vocals, and when paired with Simon’s extravagant dance number the scene comes to life. The movie also brings some modern songs into the mix, with highlights such as “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani and “Love Me” by The 1975. The pop-R&B style that Khalid and Normani go for on their song fits perfectly with the movie’s present day setting, reflecting the genres of music today’s youth enjoy to give the film a degree of realism. “Love Me” works in a similar fashion by emphasizing how real the experiences are within the movie through the song’s modern style. As a whole the soundtrack conveys the youthful tone it aims for throughout the movie as it hits the emotional beats and keeps a wide appeal with the more modern tracks sprinkled throughout.

If you’re in the mood for a modern love story full of positive themes and upbeat music, Love, Simon is just what you’ve been searching for. 

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

An excellent film for those who despise a clichéd romantic comedy, Grosse Pointe Blank tells the story of Martin Blank (John Cusack) — professional assassin — as he travels back to his small town home to carry out a killing contract and attend his 10-year high school reunion.  And the fun only begins there. Along the way, Martin attempts to reignite an old flame with his high school prom date Debi (Minnie Driver) whom he stood up on prom night, is targeted by government agents trying to catch him in an act of violence, and has to keep an eye open for rival professional killer Felix LaPoubelle, all while questioning the direction professional killing has pushed his life towards. 

With just enough romance to qualify Grosse Pointe Blank as an appropriate film for the holiday, the movie is also full of action and quirky humor as Martin is precise and vicious in his killings, but awkward and uncertain around Debi. Many of the details in the film take place through entertaining, fast-paced dialogue carried out expertly by Cusack and his co-stars. Yet this intense action is balanced out by the humorous elements woven throughout the scenes. For example, Martin finding himself in a shootout in his childhood home-turned grocery store is a moment that will have you holding your breath, only to exhale sharply in laughter as Martin has to save the store’s completely oblivious employee from an impending explosion. The movie also holds elements of nostalgia, both in its 90’s fashion shining through and in the nature of reflecting on years gone by at a high school reunion.

Cleverly complimenting the witty and over the top tone of Grosse Pointe Blank is its star-studded soundtrack containing some of the most popular songs from across the 80’s. One example occurs in the convenience store gunfight scene while the store employee is playing video games with headphones in, “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead blasts through the speakers with heavy metal drums and guitars to act as the perfect backing track as bullets fly and the store is destroyed in the background. Another great song on the tracklist, “Blister In The Sun” by the Violent Femmes, is both the intro and ending song for the movie which symbolizes how Martin Blank is starting over again with his new life. But aside from the narrative use of it, the song‘s bouncy tempo and carefree tone make it perfect for the unique and funny movie in which it is played.

Overall, the musical composition in Grosse Pointe Blank is near perfect for the kind of movie that it tries to be. Never taking itself too seriously, always looking for a way to inject something upbeat into even serious moments, this movie weaves together flawlessly with its soundtrack and makes it an extremely entertaining watching experience. Across the era of music that the movie samples from, every song fits every scene like a glove and the tone of the movie and the music never cease to match each other.

If you’re looking to avoid the typical Valentine’s Day experience this year, Grosse Pointe Blank and its retro soundtrack will make for a lovely holiday. 

Grosse Pointe Blank is rated R. 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Last but not least, the quintessential teen romance movie. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows daydreamer and hopeless romantic Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) after letters she had written to past crushes — letters they were never supposed to read — are mysteriously sent to them. One of these crushes is Josh, Lara Jean’s older sister’s ex-boyfriend (which is just as complicated as it sounds), and another is Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). In an attempt to convince Josh that she doesn’t have feelings for him, Lara Jean strikes up a plan with Peter to pretend that they are in a relationship. But what happens when a pretend relationship evolves into real feelings? 

The crowning jewel of this teen movie is how it was inexplicably crafted for teens. Lara Jean’s fashion sense perfectly captures a modern take on femininity and youth that is so prevalent to Generation Z. And while the quiet, introverted protagonists are usually given little development or an unrealistic transformation into an outgoing extrovert, Lara Jean remains true to herself while becoming more adventurous and confident. She is exactly the main character that more young people can identify with and see themselves in, rather than a stereotypical partying or careless teenager. What shines through most of all is the innocent yet honest romance. While many teen love stories jump to an uncomfortable amount of lust, To All the Boys instead conveys what it actually feels like to have a crush, to like someone before loving someone, depicting exactly what young people try to navigate in their relationships.

As previously mentioned, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential teen romance film, and the soundtrack isn’t just some mix of generic pop tunes that one might associate with a typical teen movie. Instead, the tracklist hits many different genres of music and the songs cohesively represent what is going on in the story. Lara Jean isn’t a stereotypical teen drama character. Instead, she feels like a real teen with a unique personality, and her introverted but caring qualities make her a realistic representation of today’s youth. Going along with that, the songs within the soundtrack feel like something that a high school teen like Lara Jean would have on her playlist, with pop, alternative, rock, and more elements present, all with a modern touch. These compositions underline the present-day high school setting that the film develops, and make the film more relatable and realistic while viewing. 

In addition to the tone the songs develop, they also each go along with the narrative that concurrently happens in the movie. One example is the song “Drunk” by Anteros which plays when Lara Jean and Peter sign their dating contract. Lyrically the song portrays exactly what is happening in Lara Jean’s mind, with the lyrics “I’m so drunk and in love with you, been doing all the things that I shouldn’t do,” showing already that Lara Jean is developing feelings for Peter. Later on in the film, “I Like Me Better” by Lauv, a super catchy pop tune, plays during the bus ride to the ski resort Lara Jean is heading too. The song’s lyrics about falling for someone further show Lara Jean’s potential romance with Peter becoming even more real for her. The songs consistently connect to the plot of the movie lyrically and thematically, further enforcing both the anxious and flirtatious tones that the various scenes portray.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before provides a sweet and contemporary tale with music of the same caliber that you’ll instantly fall in love with this Valentine’s Day. 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is rated TV-14.

This Valentine’s Day may be one full of frantically buying discounted boxes of chocolates or rushing to get the last bouquet of flowers. Or it may be a holiday full of films that are sure to bring laughter, tears, and plenty of music to your heart. 

Besides, chances are if these movies are showing on Valentine’s, you probably did something to bring them there.

Elizabeth Dyer & Liam Fitzpatrick are pop culture critics for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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