Gourmet chocolates, sparkling champagne, a quick trip to Europe. Valentine’s Day is synonymous with all things romance. But since most budgets may not accommodate that last suggestion (mine certainly doesn’t), it’s nice to know that you can visit three of the most iconic and idyllic locations across the pond — without leaving your couch.
Netflix offers a host of American-based sentimental favorites this month, from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Working Girl, The Wedding Planner to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. You can even find the greatest Great Gatsby (the deliciously sappy one from 1974 with a gorgeous Robert Redford in the title role).
But, if you prefer a quick European escape, here are some other options. (No passport required.)
Under the Tuscan Sun
This movie wasn’t a huge hit when it came out in 2003, but it has a lot to offer a mature female audience. The magnificent Italian countryside, for example. A focus on family (and friends who become family). Most of all, the story of a divorced woman starting over, against some odds and a massive, if allegorical, renovation project. In fact, it would be very interesting to see some stats on how many women have booked trips to Italy looking for their own Bramasole. Countless have daydreamed about it if nothing else. Diane Lane is as determined as she is lovely as Frances (“Francesca”) and there are meraviglioso performances from supporting actresses Sandra Oh and Lindsay Duncan.
Three Coins in the Fountain
This 1952 classic romantic comedy won two Oscars (and probably persuaded as many single women to visit Italy as Under the Tuscan Sun did 50 years later). The story is set in Rome and revolves around three American women who are there working and, ovviamente, looking for love. Along the way, there are accidents, misunderstandings, interoffice scandals, and a side trip to Venice. But, and this shouldn’t be a surprise, all is well by the end. The film stars Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Rossano Brazzi, and Maggie McNamara. The title song is by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and performed by crooner Frank Sinatra.
To Catch a Thief
Just three years (and a short drive along the Riviera) later and you can enjoy Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in this stylish romantic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock. Grant plays a retired jewel thief, John Robie known as “the Cat”, who must catch the area’s current jewel thief to prove that he himself is not back in business. Soon, he meets a wealthy widow and her seemingly aloof daughter Frances Stevens (Kelly), who agrees to help him. Like any of Hitchock’s films, there are satisfying surprises and reversals, and a heart-stopping climax. Frances ends up convincing John that they are meant for each other. Although in real life, this was to be one of Kelly’s final films (and the last she did with Hitchcock). Just a year later, she married Prince Rainier and became Princess of Monaco.
Blue is the Warmest Color
This much more contemporary romance came out of France in 2013. The story of an ill-fated but tremendously passionate affair between two women, it unanimously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for both the director and its two lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. (Note, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are the only women other than Jane Campion (director, The Piano) to have won the Palme d’Or.) Both performances are terrific, but the film’s long and extremely explicit (“Mon dieu!”) scenes of lesbian sex sparked controversy. Some viewed them as more of a heterosexual male director’s fantasy than a genuine representation. The love story, however, is real, deeply felt, and universally recognizable.