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No-Romance (But Still Heart-Warming) Movies For When You Aren’t In The Mood

The arrival of Valentine’s Day can be tough for lonely souls, especially with all the rom-coms making their way into cinemas and streaming platforms. As quite the anti-romance filmgoer, I can totally relate to anyone who finds it difficult to sit through a heartbreak scene without being reminded of their own heartbreaks, or who feels extra sad and alone when movie characters smooch their way into a happy ending.

But if you minus the kids’ cartoons, lighthearted Disney films, and men-dominated action movies — in which (heterosexual) romance is limited simply because there’s almost no female presence in the cast — it’s extremely difficult to find a feel-good, grown-up movie without a romantic plot or subplot. 

And that’s why it’s ever so satisfying to find one. No innocent puppy love, no convenient sexual encounters, not even a side character getting wooed. Here’s a list of films that feature not a shred of romance, but can still leave you feeling soft and warm inside:

Based on Roald Dahl’s eponymous 1988 novel, this fantasy comedy film tells the story of how the prodigious 6-year-old girl Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) develops psychokinetic abilities and navigates the new world of elementary school, as well as her extremely problematic family. Despite brutal pressures both at home and at school, Matilda forms a close friendship with her teacher Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) and helps the latter through a dark family secret. 

Granted, Matilda can be treated as a kids’ movie, but it’s still on my grown-up movie list because it conveys a lot of resilience and optimism with an innocent and surreal tone. While the film deals with pretty heavy issues like parental neglect and injustice, we’re soothed by Matilda’s kind, cheerful and magical presence, and the beautiful relationships she builds with people around her. No one falls in love or gets married in this movie, but I can assure you that its ending will bring a very happy smile to your face.

Side note: For an even more magical experience, watch Matilda the Musical!

A Simple Life is a Hong Kong drama film about the later life of Chung Chun-To (acted by Deanie Ip), an old maidservant who has worked for the family of filmmaker Roger Leung (Andy Lau) for decades, and who shares a mother-son-like relationship with Roger after the rest of the family has migrated to America. After Chung suffers a stroke, she insists on going to a nursing home to spend the rest of her years, while Roger learns to take up the role of the caretaker instead. 

The bulk of the film follows Chung’s life at the nursing home, portraying the images of the elderly with the keen sensitivity that is characteristic of the director Ann Hui. The film, although melancholic, is not dramatic; it progresses like real life, but somehow expresses so much emotional depth. The relationship between Chung and Roger goes beyond employer and employee, as they take care of each other like family. We are also warmed by brief but meaningful connections between friends in the nursing home, who long for company and yet must always be prepared for goodbyes. 

This film has won numerous awards, including Best Actress for Deanie Ip at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. As a great cinematic piece in every sense, A Simple Life is definitely worth a watch.

You’re probably already familiar with this D.C. superhero blockbuster, but just for a refresher — or a spoiler-less introduction, if you haven’t seen it: 14-year-old Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel), constantly escaping from every foster home he lands in to find his birth mother, finds himself chosen as — and temporarily transformed into — the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), the defender of the Rock of Eternity in another dimension. With the help of the other foster kids at his new home, Billy learns to harness his superpowers and tries to fight off the evil forces that try to destroy the Rock of Eternity.

This movie is humorous and lighthearted, focusing on the topics of family and friendship and ending in a fun and delightful way. It’s refreshing to take a break from the whole
superhero-falls-in-love-with-normal-human-being trope, and watch a teen superhero clumsily  tackle the bad guy, and then celebrate it, together with his friends.

This rather newly-released crime thriller is a remake of the Danish film of the same name, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor, a troubled LAPD officer working a night shift at a 911 call centre. The movie is set entirely in the call centre, where Joe receives a panicked call from an apparently abducted woman, and begins to unravel a chilling story far more complicated than he had imagined.

This film gets you feeling the same alarm and frustration that Joe the officer experiences, as he sits in the call centre with someone’s life on the line (literally). Apart from getting you all nervous like all thrillers do, The Guilty also develops Joe’s own story and talks about deeper issues related to family, violence, mental health and so on. The ending, while leaving us somewhat heavy-hearted, is nonetheless very moving and hopeful.

So here you go, my top few heart-warming films with no, zero, zilch romantic plot, for all of you who, like me, get annoyed by sappy love stories or romantic tropes that are totally unnecessary for the storyline. (I’ve lost count of the number of films I’ve had to reluctantly exclude from this list, because I was so strict about even a tiny bit of romance they involve.) 

Still, given it’s so difficult to find a romance-less film, whatever the reason is for your avoidance of romantic movies, I hope that during this Valentine’s you may be able to watch at least some of them — I definitely missed a lot of great shows when I was boycotting lovey-dovey movies. Remember that there are so many different ways to be loved, other than by the person of your dreams. All the best.

Ruijia Huang

Nanyang Tech '23

A Psychology & Linguistics undergraduate who is a little obsessed with lifting and Chinese food.
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