This article previously ran in February 2014. We’re reposting for Valentine’s Day.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so that obviously means we’re supposed to watch syrupy romantic comedies and eat licorice and write love letters and make mixtapes and do anything and everything seen in a John Hughes movie. Truth? I love all that stuff. I’m a cynical bastard about pretty much everything — you should see me when the brunch line’s too long and my friends insist we wait; it’s like 10″ nails on a chalkboard — but when it comes to sensationalized love? I eat it up.
No surprise then that one of my favorite films remains Cameron Crowe’s Singles. Or that long before Napster and AOL, I once created an entire cassette of songs taped from similar fare I would catch on HBO or Cinemax by holding my Talkboy up to the TV speakers. (How else was I supposed to get The Boombox Song, as I once called Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”?) Of course, I’m a long sufferer of the Cusack Syndrome, where I remain convinced that the only way to a girl’s heart is through music.
So, tired of all the think pieces and negative lists around this time of year, I decided to focus on something positive: 10 songs that I’ve always thought could be solid romantic comedies. Like an idiot, I dreamed up a cast for each entry, wrote up a story based on the lyrics, and even included some smarmy taglines for good measure. It was fun playing Hollywood producer, okay?
If there’s anyone to blame for this, an editorial that some might consider a crime against humanity, I point to my mother and father. I’m pretty convinced my mother would cry at any of these films and that my father would even revisit a few repeatedly, sort of like he already does with Bandits, Wedding Crashers, and Bridesmaids. See where I get this obsession?
Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.
“Spin the Bottle”
The Juliana Hatfield Three
Cast: Emma Roberts, Channing Tatum, Billy Crystal, and Eric Roberts
Story: Struggling to pay college loans, Diana Lawrence (Emma Roberts) juggles three different jobs: a daytime waitress, a fashion writer, and a late-night bartender at a night club. When rising film star T.J. Banks (Channing Tatum) throws an event at the club, his party jokingly starts a risque game of spin the bottle. Seeing her advantage, Diana tosses a secret note inside the bottle, which tips off a rags-to-riches affair that lasts more than just five minutes in the closet. Naturally, his middling agent, Jackie Greaser (Billy Crystal), does not approve.
Tagline: “Bottom’s up!”
Does the band make an appearance? Hatfield plays the single mother of Emma Roberts and has a great scene with her estranged father, Eric Roberts, who charms critics in a telling role.
Happy ending? It’s up to the bottle.
Fun fact: This song appeared on another romantic comedy’s soundtrack — Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites.
Cast: Justin Long, Aubrey Plaza, Steve Guttenberg, and Louis C.K.
Story: Kansas-bred Devon Glory (Justin Long) has just accepted a job at a prestigious law firm in downtown San Francisco. While out celebrating alone, he befriends a narcoleptic college student named Sheila Green (Aubrey Plaza), who shows him how to be young amidst the wild sides of the city. The only problem is that she keeps passing out at random intervals, leaving him to his own devices. It’s Martin Scorcese’s After Hours meets Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in this midnight comedy about love at first snooze.
Tagline: “Walking free, come with me.”
Does the band make an appearance? Bradford Cox plays a heroin dealer in the Castro District, who leads them to the West Coast Drug Czars: Guttenberg and C.K. in a match that Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman calls “delightfully tacky.”
Happy ending? Let’s just say there are zero nightmares for Plaza.
Fun fact: Deerhunter’s music has yet to appear in a Hollywood production.
Cast: Jake Johnson, Kerry Washington, Mindy Kaling, Idris Elba, Jr., Horatio Sanz, and Marc Maron
Story: Love is in Chaosville for Ted (Jake Johnson), who comes home to find his stuff outside his apartment and his now ex-girlfriend, Amy (Kerry Washington), opening her door for a new lover (Idris Elba). Shamed and confused, he uses Craigslist in a desperate attempt to find a last-minute roommate, Rhonda (Mindy Kaling), who eventually helps him find his dark side. The two plot a sick revenge plan that gets heartless with every move.
Tagline: “How could you be so…”
Does the band make an appearance? The only man Rhonda would marry is Yeezus. No cameo, but she carries a locket with his photo in it. Creepy, huh?
Happy ending? It all begins and ends on a Lovelines-esque talk show hosted by Marc Maron and Horatio Sanz. So, tune in to find out. (Spoiler: Yes.)
Fun fact: The song was used to great effect in the 90210 episode “Games People Play” back in 2008.
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Michael B. Jordan, Allison Brie, Sam Neil, Bonnie Hunt, and Wendell Pierce
Story: Eccentric NYU student Kristin Cook (Greta Gerwig) comes home from a two-month study in France, ready to marry her high school sweetheart, Charlie Wing (Michael B. Jordan). The two are set to wed in six months at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, a sacred reservation at a special place they’ve had set in stone for over three years. When Charlie breaks things off suddenly, Kristin’s life is spun around, and she turns to her best friend (Allison Brie) to find her special someone as the clock’s ticking.
Tagline: “This time, the bride’s saving the date.”
Does the band make an appearance? Annie Clark and Kristin are both stood up by a blind date, only to discover they were both set up for each other. Hilarity ensues.
Happy ending? Yes and no. Kristin must realize love isn’t in the air for her, but for her estranged parents (Sam Neil and Bonnie Hunt), much to the chagrin of their confused minister (Wendell Pierce).
Fun fact: The song’s title originally came from a catchphrase of Arrested Development’s Maeby Funke, who warded off Hollywood producers while attempting to make, you guessed it, cheesy rom-coms.
“You Only Live Once”
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Dane DeHaan, Donald Glover, Ted Danson, and Michelle Pfeiffer
Story: For five years, sexaholic Wendy Strickland (Lizzy Caplan) has overseen an advice column for The Seattle Times. When her single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) is diagnosed with lung cancer, she has a sudden change of heart about her lifestyle. She refuses to die alone and, instead, sets out to revisit her past affairs, which have all been popular column topics despite destroying her lovers’ public lives. Things get ugly (Ted Danson), bitter (Donald Glover), and educational (Dane DeHaan) as Wendy attempts to add some light in her life.
Tagline: “A 1,000 ways to please a man. Only one requires a plan.”
Does the band make an appearance? There’s a Strokes poster in Dane DeHaan’s room. Otherwise, no.
Happy ending? It’s an indie rom-com, which means there’s a level of ambiguity that reads either way.
Fun fact: The song’s cousin “I’ll Try Anything Once” superbly soundtracked Sophia Coppola’s 2010 nap Somewhere, including its gorgeous trailer.
Cast: Zac Efron, Kumail Nanjiani, Donal Logue, Rosie Perez, and John Goodman
Story: It’s 1981 in Kalamazoo, MI, where recent college graduates and best friends Luke (Zac Efron) and Steve (Kumail Nanjiani) reunite for drinks at their old local hangout. Over several whiskeys, the two reminisce about the town’s many changes, uncovering a secret side to themselves they never knew: true love. The only problem is that Luke’s father (John Goodman) is the town’s Baptist minister of 35 years, and Steve’s married. Can one night last forever?
Tagline: “Light up the sky. Live in the streets.”
Does the band make an appearance? Not at all, though there’s a discussion between a bartender (Donal Logue) and a lovable drunk patron (Rosie Perez) about the merits of punk rock, and Joan Jett is mentioned.
Happy ending? Sober is as sober does. The tables turn come morning — literally and metaphorically.
Fun fact: Sexuality is a rampant theme of The Runaways’ lyrics and something that’s confused many longtime fans. When asked about her own sexuality, Jett has stated: “…that’s not what I want people to focus on. I want people to focus on the music. And if they want to know who I am, I write about who I am in the lyrics, so don’t be lazy — read the lyrics and figure it out for yourself. I sing to everyone, that’s the bottom line. You don’t want to say, ‘All right, you guys, you can’t be involved in this.’ You want everybody to be involved. You want everybody to want you.”
“Fake Plastic Trees”
Cast: James Franco, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Julia Roberts
Story: Fred Lear (James Franco) is a hotshot plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, following the footsteps of his father, the acclaimed “Hollywood Hero” (Woody Harrelson). His life couldn’t be better: He has a beautiful pediatrician wife (Olivia Wilde), drives fast cars, and even gets random gigs on sitcoms and soap operas. The catch? He’s a manic depressive, and when his therapist (Julia Roberts) prescribes him on an advanced drug, he finds himself sleeping long hours. In his dreams, he falls in love with a mysterious woman (Zoe Saldana), who he attempts to create with one of his recurring patients (Thandie Newton).
Tagline: “If I could be who you wanted.”
Does the band make an appearance? Jonny Greenwood does the score.
Happy ending? Thematically, yes, but it’s a long, semi-twisted road to get there — awkward laughs aplenty.
Fun fact: The song has been in countless TV shows and films, including Clueless, Little Surfer Girl, and Something Borrowed. However, it was used to great effect in an episode of Entourage titled “Gotta Look Up to Get Down”. A few bro tears were shed on that ending.
Queens of the Stone Age
Cast: Topher Grace, Carrie Mulligan, Adam Driver, Susan Sarandon, and Garth Brooks
Story: Mary (Carrie Mulligan) and Greg (Topher Grace) are longtime roommates in New York who have spent years together, from high school to college to their now professional lives. A week before their lease is up, Greg decides to tell Mary how he really feels about her. Unfortunately, the morning of his Big Decision, he wakes up to meet her new boyfriend, Mitch (Adam Driver), a wild actor who’s essentially his anti-thesis. He’s a druggie, a freak in bed, and hates commitment, and Mary can’t get enough of these vices, leaving Greg to wonder if he’s been wrong all these years.
Tagline: “Drink and screw is all we’ll do.”
Does the band make an appearance? One of their sordid affairs occurs at a Queens of the Stone Age concert at the Bowery Ballroom.
Happy ending? Things get loud, messy, and reckless. At one point, Mary’s hysterical parents (Garth Brooks and Susan Sarandon) have to bail her out of jail when Greg doesn’t answer her calls. Zinger of a line: Brooks pleads with her “not to break his achy heart,” which sends Billy Ray Cyrus over the moon.
Fun fact: This would also be a rom-com debut for Josh Homme & Co. The closest they’ve come is an episode of Daria with “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”.
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Rachel McAdams, Scott Porter, Carrie Underwood, Ernie Hudson, and Kiefer Sutherland
Story: South of the Border rodeo star Jake McCoy (Taylor Kitsch) stumbles upon his childhood crush, Mary Beth Beale (Rachel McAdams), when she returns to town in search of potential talent for a Las Vegas show. Quiet and handsome, Jake attempts to hide his love behind the hat but soon finds he’s not the only one after her heart. His longtime rival, Bruce Garrity (Scott Porter), has his eye on Mary Beth and everything she offers in Sin City. Plenty of dust is rustled when the boots start kickin’, but there can only be one true cowboy.
Does the band make an appearance? Their songs are littered throughout the film. Jake’s rodeo theme is “Warriors”, and there’s a dance to “Cowboy Song” in a saloon between he and Mary Beth.
Happy ending? Garrity finds himself in a pickle between show promoter (Ernie Hudson) and rodeo head honcho (Kiefer Sutherland) when his ex-wife (Carrie Underwood) robs him dirty, to which McCoy helps him out by throwing the rodeo in his favor. He loses Sin City but wins the girl.
Fun fact: Does A Knight’s Tale count as a rom-com? If so, the Dublin legends are well versed in mushy gushy stuff.
“Elevator Love Letter”
Cast: Emily Blunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Haden Church, and JoBeth Williams
Story: Workaholics Rebecca Williams (Emily Blunt) and Ben Power (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spend the majority of their waking hours at their desks, slaving away for the next expected promotion. She’s a copywriter for Chicago’s top ad-agency while he’s a marketing consultant for a surefire digital start-up that Forbes claims will be responsible for “the next bubble.” The two frequent the same cafes, midnight bars, and lobby elevators. He notices her, she doesn’t notice him — that is, until one late night the two of them are both evacuated from the building during a false fire alarm. Together, they dwell in a perfect morning, where the only thing that waits for them is their respective desks. What wins: work or love or both?
Tagline: “Keep those heels high.”
Does the band make an appearance? Only when Ben pulls out a vinyl copy of Heart late in the third act. He’s also invited to some “indie thing” by his supervisor (Thomas Haden Church).
Happy ending? It’s again ambiguous, but here’s why: Despite her friend’s protests (Kirsten Dunst), Rebecca opts out of the relationship, deciding to maintain her work ethic that’s got her this far. When the start-up bites the dust, Ben moves in with his mother (JoBeth Williams), only to receive a call from his former supervisor telling him there’s another big project with “billions to make” and a staff to assemble. With an offer in hand, Ben visits Rebecca at work, explains the new job, and leaves a Post-It note on the portfolio. The film ends with her reading the secret message and the doors shutting on a smiling Ben.
Fun fact: Given their inclusions in fluff like One Tree Hill, The O.C., and Like Crazy, Amy Millan and Torquill Campbell were clearly destined for this genre.