8 Movies My Past Girlfriends Forced Me to Watch That Made Me Who I Am Today

Solid relationships are built on compromise.
My Neighbor Totoro
By  · Published on May 5th, 2011

Solid relationships are built on compromise.

Meaning, when your boyfriend or girlfriend tells you they want to go see Something Borrowed or Thor this weekend and your gut reaction is “I’d rather have an eagle bite out my liver every day for an eternity than see that movie,” well, you have to suck it up. Not just because you’re trying to keep the two of you together, but because the movie may actually turn out to be your cup of tea. Open minds, people.

I’ve been the “movie buff” in many a relationship, but this weekend’s line-up reminded me of the many discoveries I’ve made thanks to the differing opinions and interests of past significant others. For every sappy mother/daughter road trip drama (Anywhere But Here), fairy tale relationship come true (The Prince and Me), or by-the-books rom-com with a song for a title (Sweet Home Alabama), my girlfriends took me to a movie that — gasp — continues to resonate in my memory, challenge the way I watch films and remind me that I should get over myself once in awhile.

Pretty impressive. I hope one of them felt that way when I sat them down to watch Jet Li’s The One.

As a reminder to myself and to all that we don’t ever really know what we’re going to enjoy the heck out of, here are eight movies I would probably never have seen on my own volition. And then I turn the table on you: what movie did someone twist your arm to see that actually turned out to be solid? I gratefully ask you to share your stories in the comments!

My Neighbor Totoro

The Pre-Judgment: My Neighbor Totoro was a movie my high school girlfriend’s dad recorded off TV on to a Hi-8 tape and required us to watch off a video camera. Starring what appeared to be one of those creepy, grinning stuffed animals that’s always peering at you from the other side of a room, I imagined successfully sitting through Totoro would earn me some sort of boyfriend medal of honor.

The Judgment: Hayao Miyazaki’s simplistic, charming animated film was my gateway drug to the world of Studio Ghibli, and even more importantly, the world of animation. My Neighbor Totoro was fantastical art — even in crappy, lo-fi quality. There was a potential to this form of filmmaking I hadn’t seen before, a magic that could only be captured through the colorful, whimsical eye of an animator. My girlfriend loved it because the Totoro song is the most adorable thing ever created by man, but I was just happy to have alternatives to Disney flicks and Dragon Ball Z.

Down with Love

The Pre-Judgment: A throwback to the crack-up sex comedies of the 1960s, chock full of retro styles and wink-wink gags delivered by one of the more irksome actresses of modern day: Renée Zellweger. It was like my girlfriend asking me to read back issues of Vogue while getting our nails did. Guess I didn’t see the hilarious appeal of beehive hair-dos.

The Judgment: As far as rom-coms go, Down with Love doesn’t just step outside the box, it breaks it down, tapes it back together and fancies it up with a stylistic gift wrap that is practically unheard of in Hollywood. How did this movie get made? Mystifying, but watching Zellweger, Ewan McGregor and director Peyton Reed embody the whirlwind of an old fashioned romance (not mock it) makes for a truly lovely time. Which is why the movie made $0.

The Lion in Winter

The Pre-Judgment: The Lion in Winter stars the legendary Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn and won several Oscars when it was released in 1968 — but there are few things less appealing on a Friday night than a heavy drama set in medieval France. Medical studies have proved that cinematic play adaptations concerning European history are the second most effective sleep drug under Ambien.

The Judgment: What a fool I am, especially as a person who can enjoy a riveting piece of theater, to brush off The Lion in Winter. Every line in this frickin’ movie is delivered with unrivaled ferocity, like Shakespeare interpreted by David Mamet. We talk about the fine, but definitive line between theater and film, but a movie like The Lion in Winter convinces you that there’s room for a hybrid. We can have unrealistic, poetical dialogue in movies. Take a Hepburn classic: “I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice! ”

Me and You and Everyone We Know

The Pre-Judgment: QuirkFest 2005, courtesy of performance artist/writer/mind-controller over the literary-inclined, Miranda July. July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know appeared to be another Wes Anderson-inspired, surface-level indie combined with the unstoppable power of adorable children who say intellectual things. I was very worried for the girlfriend that enjoyed this movie.

The Judgment: July’s latest film The Future solidifies this for me, but even in Me and You and Everyone We Know you begin to realize that she’s something of a 21st century, female Woody Allen. The movie isn’t quirky for quirk’s sake, July’s just the real deal. I could see why a person who authentically enjoys art and the creative process would be enthralled by July’s work — it’s a completely unfiltered vision, an extension of herself, much like Allen’s films. Not necessarily appealing all the time, but genuine.


The Pre-Judgment: Ah, the days when I’d head to Blockbuster and watch my girlfriend pick whatever movie had compelling box art. As a young person, I never had a fear of foreign films the way some of my compatriots did (er, still do, I would imagine), but let’s be honest: I had some other priorities while watching movies. Subtitles required my undivided attention and I had serious concerns that this random, schmaltzy French flick would be too…distracting.

The Judgment: Always cross reference the names on the box with your memory bank. Obviously I was too caught up in my own obnoxious behavior to connect director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to films I had seen and loved, like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children (note: films my girlfriend at the time loathed). Amelie was something even more special than his earlier work, the perfect gel of his style and romanticism. As Amelie and Nino zipped through the streets on their bicycle and the credits rolled, I recalled saying, “why aren’t American films more like that?” To which my girlfriend replied, “Did you like it?”

Save the Last Dance

The Pre-Judgment: Julia Stiles is the queen of movies that girlfriends demand to see in theaters, much to their boyfriends’ dismay. She starred in so many “how can X guy win over Julia Stiles this time?” movies, that I had a strong resistance to seeing The Bourne Identity in theaters. Sad. Save the Last Dance fit that model, mixed with…dancing. Ew, gross.

The Judgment: Few movies take teenagers as seriously as Save the Last Dance. Yes, the whole interracial dance thing is a little trite, but the movie’s about the power of ambition and friendship, letting down one’s guard to find comfort in others. That’s important stuff for the core demographic of Save the Last Dance and it doesn’t hurt that the hip hop music and dancing is equally as powerful as Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas (what happened to that guy?). Whatever Step Up franchise, the real deal is Save the Last Dance.

John Q

The Pre-Judgment: I vividly recall trying to decide between staying in one night and playing Rummikub or going to see Denzel Washington in John Q. I lost that argument. I don’t even know if my girlfriend at the time wanted to see John Q, as it looked like one of the most sentimental turds in all of movie history. She just really didn’t want to play Rummikub with me.

The Judgment: Well, I wasn’t wrong. I haven’t returned to John Q since that fateful day, but I think about it constantly. It may have been the first movie I flat out hated — HATED! — which makes it that much more important. Everything in John Q stunk to high heaven, and even with “worse” movies in existence, watching the film was a moment of clarity, in which I could perfectly describe why the film was a piece of poop. Everything is flawed and it’s the perfect film to analyze why this happens to a project that is, obviously, someone’s labor of love (in this case, Nick Cassavetes).

Before Sunset

The Pre-Judgment: Watching two people fall in love on screen can be a great experience for couples. Watching people talk about how they were never able to make it work and have lots of regrets and wish they could be together even though it’s impossible…probably not as great an experience. Those are the kind of seeds you don’t want to plant two months into your new relationship.

The Judgment: Off the tip of my tongue, I’d say Before Sunset is the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s also the sequel to Before Sunrise, the “one night fling” movie that could also take the title, but watching two former lovers, further down the road of their lives, talking about how things have changed and mistakes they’ve made…that brings you little closer to the things you do have. Okay, girlfriend, you won that round. I’ll pay you back by taking you to Blade: Trinity!

How many movies have you been forced into that changed your life?

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