By my count, there are two seasonal “revamp your life” moments in the year: New Years and spring. Maybe it’s the excitement of being able to finally smell flowers again, hear birds, see the sun, wear t-shirts — when the weather starts to warm up, there’s something in the April air that invites change and reinvention.
And if you need a little encouragement or something to watch as you deep clean your house and sip rosé, here’s a collection of some of our favorite films about people trying to turn over a new leaf, and start fresh.
1. My Fair Lady (1964)
Of all the offerings of the Cinderella story/“lower class person being transformed by someone of a better social standing” genre, none hold a candle to George Cukor’s award-winning take on Eliza Doolittle, cockney flower seller turned “proper” English lady. My Fair Lady‘s polemical message, that the British class system is held together by inheritance, accents, and petticoats, is what really sets My Fair Lady apart. Or as Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza sings to Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins: “and without much ado, we can all muddle through without you.” Out with the old, in with the class-consciousness.
2. Wild (2014)
Who among us has not toyed with the idea of dropping everything and escaping to some remote corner of the globe to reset, recalibrate, and rediscover yourself in the woods? Jean-Marc Valleé’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir tells of a young woman trying to do just that after her life falls apart in the wake of her mother’s death. Wild sees Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) on the path to becoming the kind woman her mom would want her to be, hiking solo along the Pacific Crest Trail over the course of several weeks.
3. You Only Live Once (1937)
Fritz Lang’s 1937 crime drama sees ex-mobster Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda) trying to fly straight and settle down with his fiancee (Sylvia Sidney) after being released from prison. But, as is the fate for a film inspired by Bonnie and Clyde, Taylor can’t catch a break, and things quickly go from “framed on a murder rap” to “bonafide homicide.” It’s a good reminder: good intentions do not a fresh start make.
4. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Roger Ebert called Under the Tuscan Sun “yuppie porn,” and frankly the man is right. But just like drinking wine in a bathtub or eating Boursin with a spoon, yuppie porn is something to be indulged in. And what Under the Tuscan Sun is peddling is pure indulgence. Discovering a new lease on life after signing a lease on a Tuscan villa? I’ll be in my bunk.
5. Groundhog Day (1993)
If you’re looking for drastic life overhauls look no further than Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day, which sees Bill Murray’s Phil start fresh over and over, and over again. Suspended in the snowy purgatory of Punxsutawney, Phil is doomed to eternally press the “I Got You Babe” reset button — that is until early 90s rom-com queen Andie McDowell inspires him to use his Sisyphean situation to truly change himself to become less of a dick.
6. Walk Cheerfully (1930)
Kenji (Minoru Takada), the small-time gangster hero of Yasujiro Ozu’s Walk Cheerfully, has found a reason to get back on the straight and narrow. Her name is Yasue (Hiroko Kawasaki). With a foot still in the crime world, Kenji finds that new beginnings are hard to come by, but discovers that starting over isn’t something you have to do alone.
7. Con Air (1997)
Con Air is a ridiculous and uplifting (literally) movie/rock video about a gloriously mullet-ed Nic Cage reuniting with his family after being granted parole. Oh, right, also most of the film takes place on a prison transport plane that has been hijacked by a cargo of “worst of the worst” convicts. But Cage’s desire to start fresh is greater than John Malcovich’s sneer—and in the end, our hero manages to meet his daughter for the first time, bunny intact.
8. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
After being released from eight months of in-patient treatment for bipolar disorder, Pat Solano (Bradley Cooper) is determined to repair the damage he’s done to his life. He begins a relationship with Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a neurotic local widow who is as brittle as he is. Together they set out to prove everyone wrong by finding peace and making a home in their illness.
9. Precious (2009)
Precious is a film that sculpts hope out of heartbreak and finds a kernel of possibility and potential in a truly capital-b Bad situation. Abused, pregnant, and seemingly devoid of prospects, Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) discovers a new path in life after enrolling at an alternative school. With a chance to start over, and with adults in her corner for the first time in her life, she finally has a shot.
10. Billy Liar (1963)
Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) has done wrong by so many people in his dull northern town that he really has nothing to lose by tagging along with Liz (Julie Christie) on the night train to London. But Billy would rather make good with his disparaging parents and maligned employers than take the very adult plunge of a committed relationship.
11. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
When her husband dies unexpectedly, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) packs up her life and sets out on a journey to her hometown in California, to the last place she felt truly happy. She has a garage sale, sells the house, and embarks on a middle-aged odyssey through the Southwest to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming the next Alice Faye.
12. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Martha (or is it Marcy May? Or Marlene?) has escaped from a dangerous cult and is having a hard time differentiating reality from her dreams. Haunted by the memories of her cult life, and falling prey to paranoid fears that cult members may try to track her down, Martha Marcy May Marlene charts the difficulty of reclaiming your life and the hard truth that there is a difference between a fresh start and a happy ending.
13. Ruby in Paradise (1993)
Ruby in Paradise is the cinematic equivalent of chicken soup during flu season; it’s like a warm, affirming hug. The film sees Ashely Judd as Ruby Lee Gissing, a twenty-something who drives from Tennessee to Florida in search of a steady paycheck and a sense of independence; a sense of feeling smart, capable, and confident in her path towards happiness, and recognition.
14. The Truman Show (1998)
With the gnawing suspicion that his whole life is a sham, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) must reject everything he knows to escape his improbably ideal small town life. The Truman Show‘s final scene might just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. It is a cathartic, affirmative, and low-key terrifying vision of a fresh start. Good afternoon good evening and good night, indeed.
Related Topics: Comedy