Movies · TV

The On-Screen Couples We Believe In

By  · Published on February 14th, 2017

This Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating love that works.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means that you’re either in the midst of being reminded how great love is or how annoying people are when they are in love. It all depends on your current attachment situation. Either way, we hope that you’re eating chocolate covered strawberries. Because whether this manufactured holiday of love makes you feel happy or sad, you might as well use it as an excuse to eat some delicious treats.

Here at Film School Rejects, we’re celebrating the theme of love in a slightly different way. Sure, we could put together a list of the most romantic movies of all-time, the steamiest sex scenes to put you in the mood, or the ideal on-screen versions of passion. This year, we’d like to take a more pragmatic approach by highlighting the couples we believe. We don’t care about the grand gestures so much as finding what works longterm. Don’t get it twisted, the couples listed by our staff below are plenty in love, but they are also getting the job of co-existence done. Or will be, once Jimmy Jr. realizes that Tina is right for him. So without further ado, here are the on-screen couples we believe in…

Marge and Norm Gunderson

Meg Shields: Early morning, Marge (Frances McDormand) gets called in to investigate a triple homocide, and Norm (John Carroll Lynch) is there for cuddles. She tells him he can go back to sleep but damned if Norm isn’t gonna fix her some eggs. Marge has to shove off; she’s the chief of police of Brainerd, and Coen brother mischief is afoot. She’s seven months pregnant, but Norm knows this won’t hold her back. They say I love you, and he calls her Margie. Norm brings her Arby’s at work. Even though she’s just left the scene of a crime, Marge brings him some earthworms for ice-fishing bait. This is a strong, supportive, and loving relationship; a quiet, enviably comfortable and well-worn domesticity. They fall asleep in bed together eating Old Dutch chips and watching nature docs. This is goals. They go to fast food buffets together. When Norm doubts his abilities as a wildlife artist, Marge reassures him he’s terrific, that plenty of folks will need the 3-cent stamp, and that she’s very proud of him. They are independent people with their own hobbies and careers, but at the end of the day, they’re there for one another, and in two months, for their lucky, lucky kid.

Quincy and Monica

Neil Miller: As a V-Day downer, I was about ready to abstain from participating in this list of my own coordination. But as a basketball junkie whose sophomore year of high school was rudely interrupted by a huge crush on Sanaa Lathan, there’s no way I was letting this go to print without a mention of Love & Basketball. The Gina Prince-Bythewood written and directed story is not only a tale of hoop dreams, it’s also a shining example of the relentless persistence of true love. Lathan and Omar Epps play two childhood friends who truly vibrate on the same frequency, leading them back to each other through the quarters of their lives. And spoiler alert, it works out. In the fantasy post-credits scenes of my mind, Quincy and Monica’s kid grew up to be Maya Moore, who starred alongside my guy Kyrie Irving in the third Uncle Drew commercial. No, I’ve never written Love & Basketball fanfic. Don’t make it weird.

Barry and Lena

Fernando Andrés: One would be hard-pressed to find a film more achingly romantic than Paul Thomas Anderson’s absurdist masterpiece Punch-Drunk Love, no matter how odd and manic its central couple may be. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) and Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) cross paths within the opening five minutes of the film, but it is clear that he may not be the one for her. Barry, who is prone to crying fits and explosive tantrums, panics that his erratic behavior will alienate Lena, who seems to be softspoken and normal. But as the film progresses, we understand that Lena is not “normal”; in fact, no one in the film is, just as no one who could possibly be so foolish as to fall in love could be considered normal. And whether it is expressed through a last-minute kiss in a hallway or pillow talk about loving someone so much you want to scoop their eyes out, it’s love, and it’s maddening. There is perhaps no sweeter finale in Anderson’s filmography than Lena with her arms wrapped around Barry, whispering “here we go” as they prepare to embark on the ugly yet beautiful road that is a relationship.

Jesse and Céline

Max Covill: Whereas the first two movies of the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) deal with the culmination of a fairy tale romance, Before Midnight depicts a love that has plenty of challenges. There’s no question that Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) love each other; it has been sixteen years since meeting on a train, falling in love, and finally making a family for themselves. Even after all these years, there are reservations to their connection. Is it exactly what each of them want out of life? Relationships are more than just being swept off your feet and expecting a happy ending. Jesse and Céline show that although they have had fantasies of how their lives will play out, life has a way of working out just a bit differently. Before Midnight shows that even a romance that seems guided by fate can have issues. Working through those issues together and keeping love alive is harder than having a perfect day. Jesse and Céline might not last forever, but they sure will try.

David Kessler and Nurse Alex Price

Brad Gullickson: Cast out from The Slaughtered Lamb for failing to appreciate a humorous jab at American foreign policy and asking one too many questions about the blood drawn pentangle on the wall, a couple of sex obsessed college kids wander out onto the moors only to find their bodies ravaged by the local werewolf. David Kessler awakens in a hospital to visions of his walking meatloaf buddy Jack, and the ultimate male fantasy of Jenny Agutter spoon feeding him a JELL-O breakfast. The early flirtations between David and Agutter’s Nurse Alex capture all the extreme excitement and awkwardness of a budding relationship. This is no mere one-night stand; the film succeeds because it’s a seriously intense, albeit brief romance compounded by hirsute supernatural shenanigans. After a quick tour of her flat, Alex’s confessional attraction to David is painfully honest. He is a pathetic creature, and needs her care more than he could possibly know at that point. An American Werewolf in London is a mash of emotions. John Landis never sides with one genre over the other as he drags you through horror, comedy, and bittersweet romance. Nurse Alex pushing her way past the fumbling and petrified police of Piccadilly Circus, and forcing herself to confront this dog at the end of the alleyway is a crushingly sad act of love. That ultimate tragedy being that this is not a Disney fairy tale, this beauty cannot tame the beast, and the dog that was once David must be put down.

Darryl Whitefeather and White Josh

Jacob Oller: Darryl Whitefeather was just a sad straight guy going through a divorce when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend began. He was the protagonist’s ineffective boss, the butt of many a joke. Everything changed when he met White Josh (so named because of the main character Josh, who is played by a Filipino actor). A friendly peck on the cheek from openly gay White Josh leads to Darryl’s reconsideration of his sexual identity, culminating in a powerful ’80s Huey Lewis and the News-style pop song about his bisexuality. The two start dating and provide a grounded romance in contrast to the show’s central, well, CRAZY relationship. They have ups and downs, jealousies about types (you dated all of them and I’m just the next in the series, etc), and minor squabbles. They always end smiling at each other, an ideal relationship whose choppy waters always settle. White Josh is a level-headed gym rat that keeps Darryl’s flights of fancy tethered while Darryl gives White Josh the needed push to get goofy. Their ironic presence, a how-to guide for a good relationship – right next to the failing protagonists makes the show all the funnier and their inclusion all the sweeter.

Miracle Max and Valerie

Danny Bowes: The Princess Bride is beloved for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its unabashedly romantic portrayal of true love, but it also subtly features one beautifully rendered portrait of two lifelong romantic partners. I speak of course of Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, who under heavy prosthetics play Miracle Max and his wife Valerie, to whom Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo and Andre the Giant’s Fezzik turn to resurrect Cary Elwes’ (mostly) dead Westley. Max and Valerie are older than time (it being a fairy tale) and eternal; they bitch at each other constantly, probably over things that happened, in this case, centuries ago. But it would be unthinkable for either of them to go without the other. That’s true love.

Morticia and Gomez Addams

Ciara Wardlow: When someone says “fictional marital bliss,” The Addams Family is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But perhaps it should be. Morticia and Gomez have stuck together for decades without loosing their “spark”; their relationship remains about far more than keeping up a united front around the children (though they certainly do that as well). However, because their loving banter often also mentions death and dismemberment, their portrayal of a healthy, passionate marriage is often overlooked. Which is ironic, because their “creepiness” is exactly what makes their relationship so compelling. Growing up, we are often shown Cinderella stories of characters changing themselves to catch the eye of their desired significant other. Morticia and Gomez’s romance is shown to work because of their highly compatible brands of strangeness, not in spite of their oddities. Love is weird, but ultimately, so are people. Why not embrace it?

Mildred and Richard Loving

Christopher Campbell: “I thought love was only true in fairy tales.” I used to think so, too, and it’s fitting that those lyrics come from the top-selling single in the US in 1967, the same year in which the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage throughout America. We don’t see a lot of actual romance in nonfiction cinema that doesn’t feel forced, and it’s especially rare in documentaries. But the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, subjects of the doc The Loving Story and dramatized characters in two biopic dramas – the more notable being last year’s Loving – is a story of a true love with genuine, casual romantic gestures. You can see it in the photo of Richard resting his head on Mildred’s lap in Grey Villet’s Life magazine photo, featured in the doc, and feel it in the reenactment of that photo in Loving. It strikes you in the tear ducts and back of your throat when Richard, played by Joel Edgerton, simply says to tell the Supreme Court justices that he loves his wife (Ruth Negga). They were a proud but humble couple who just loved each other very much and deserved and believed they deserved to be legally wed. They didn’t want or need to be famous or even remembered for their part in history. All they did, really, was love. Honestly love. And that love happened to be powerful stuff. Still is powerful, inspiring, true, romantic stuff.

Vampire Adam and Eve

William Dass: Thematically, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive has a lot going on under the hood, but it’s all wrapped around one heck of a love story. Adam and Eve are vampire lovers counting their relationship by the century. Their interests are distinct, but complimentary. He’s a musician, she’s a reader. Still, they maintain traditions. When she comes to visit him, they meet at the door and formally acknowledge one another before he escorts her into the house. What’s it really like to exist perpetually in the ever after of happily? It’s a challenge. For starters, they’re presently living about 4,000 miles apart. Then, there’s the bodies that need to be disposed of after Eve’s sister causes a bit of trouble. They flee to Morocco and mourn the loss of a dear friend together. Look, I know they’re vampires. These specifics may be fantastical, but the human element they capture is not. An authentic love story about relationships which persist involves a recognition that the natural ebb and flow of an intertwined existence is something that must be actively maintained and propelled forward. And that couldn’t be more true for Adam and Eve. When they’re down and out in Tangier, they still find time for a bit of culture and a loving gift. They’re never against each other. They’re together. Right up to the end, when they agree to nourish themselves on the sweet fruit of young love.

Gus and Wally

Chris Coffel: Labeling something as “ahead of its time” is cliche but it’s hard to talk about Mission Hill without saying it was ahead of its time. In its short run on television the genius creation from Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein managed to raise the bar for sitcoms going forward, most notably when it comes to the portrayal of gay characters. On this Valentine’s Day let’s celebrate the true love between Mission Hill’s resident gays, Gus and Wally.

The beauty of Gus (Nick Jameson) and Wally (Tom Kenny) is that both individually and as a couple they’re not the slightest bit stereotypical. These are three dimensional characters – perhaps this is why they live in apartment 3D – with plenty of depth and as a result the show managed to pick up a GLAAD award. Gus is a grumpy man in his 60’s that runs a diner. He’s based on Lawrence Tiernery so he has a very obvious rough exterior but deep down he’s a big sweetheart. Wally works at a revival movie theater where’s he’s the projectionist. On the surface Wally is much more gentle than Gus but in reality he’s a big crouch, just like most film snobs.

In “Plan 9 from Mission Hill,” which in my opinion is the best episode of the series, we learn the backstory of their relationship. In addition to being a cinephile Wally was an aspiring director. In the 50’s he got his opportunity to direct with a sci-fi film called ‘The Man from Pluto.’ Initially it was going to be a big budget studio picture about the Cold War but then Wally met Gus who was working as a grip. He was immediately smitten and cast Gus as the lead despite Gus being a terrible actor. As a result Wally lost his funding, most of his other actors and ended up making an Ed Wood-like picture, effectively ending his film career before it ever started.

Wally never got to live out his dream of being a big shot Hollywood director but instead he did something better – he found the love of his life and the two have never been happier.

Ray and Marnie

Andrew Karpan: In the first few beats of the premiere of the final season of Girls, no viewer is surprised to find, together again, my two favorite faces of the series: the late-blooming songwriting attractive-type Marnie (Allison Williams) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky), its nerd and veteran grump. She’s kicking him out, of course, and by the end of the episode she will already be in bed with her ex-husband (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). But it’s no large roadblock in the saga of Ray and Marnie, one of the show’s longest running romances, stretching back to a moment of collective desperation in the third show’s third season: Marnie needs reassurance and Ray is still crashing from when Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) broke his heart. Marnie is too good for him and he is too good for her and, in a sense, it is like every relationship you have ever been in. Like all TV, Marnie and Ray are tropes, the kind of people that exist in fiction and supposedly represent vast hordes of people you don’t know that well. But Dunham makes their love real: they get bad Chinese food and imagine they’re doing the other a favor. Aren’t we all too attractive and too smart for our significant others and ditto anyone else on the planet?

Tina Belcher and Jimmy Jr.

Sinéad McCausland: There are many kinds of love in Bob’s Burgers. There’s the love between husband and wife, parent and child, and brother and sister. However, it’s Tina Belcher’s love – the unrequited kind – that proves most lasting. The teen icon’s obsession with “butts”, her preoccupation with writing fan fiction about her and her love Jimmy Pesto Jr., and attempts at romance all prove the lengths Miss Tina will go to in order to have a chance at fulfilling her fantasies. More importantly, Tina’s obsession with Jimmy Jr. is a representation for what most teenagers will inevitably come to face as they go through life: unrequited love. This love tells audiences nothing about Jimmy Jr. himself, but instead reveals the experiences of Tina. Her creativity is shown through her books-upon-books of fanfiction and frequent imagined scenarios and/or dream sequences (3,000 fantasy hours’ worth); her resilience and strength are emphasised through her constant pursuits for love despite continuous rejection; and her self-projection onto Jimmy Jr. serves as a learning lesson for Tina rather than an exploration into who Jimmy Jr. is. Tina’s strength comes from her love of Jimmy Jr. rather than in spite of it, and it’s really because her love for him isn’t actually anything to do with Jimmy Jr. but all to do with herself – she just hasn’t realised it. As Tina famously says in season 2’s The Belchies after realising she does not need to hinder herself in favour of male attention, “Im a smart, strong, sensual woman.” This quote, and Tina herself, show how joy and creativity is found in unrequited love, and it can often be just as rewarding – if not more so for the self – than the reciprocated kind.

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