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Films for the Brokenhearted: A Girl's Guide to Recovery

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Guides | October 2, 2012 | Comments ()


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The end of my first serious relationship wasn't a surprise to me, I ended it myself. And then I cried. For someone who has very little self control, breaking up with someone you still want to be with (but shouldn't for a variety of reasons) is difficult. All you want is to crawl back in, to call and explain you were wrong, so wrong, but I knew that what I had done was right, which was even worse. It came at the end of a difficult year, losing a job I had loved for five years and dealing with a host of other ill-timed and depressing things.

The real impact of ending my two year relationship hit a day or two later on a Sunday night. I wanted to watch "Breaking Bad" because I couldn't take a chance on spoilers, but I also found myself wanting to cry a lot. So I did both, and just kept turning the volume up as I continued to cry harder and harder. It would have made sense to stop and turn it off, but doing anything at all other than staring and crying felt impossible. Also, I really wanted to see that episode. I wondered if this would be my new life, sobbing while accomplishing various tasks and then got annoyed at myself for thinking something so trite and dramatic.

Here's a guide to emotional recovery, a kind of break-up playlist, but for movies. The emotional tenor of one leads directly into the healing effects of the next, moving you ever closer to stability and a place where you can believe you will love again. It doesn't feel like it now, but you so will. If someone had said that to me a month ago, though, I would have wanted to punch them, so bookmark this and come back in a week or so if you need to. Take your time. You do you.

You're probably gonna feel a whole lot worse before you feel better.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This movie knows where you're at, as it's all about the desire to erase a maddening relationship from your mind. I bet you wanna do that right now too. When those credits start fifteen minutes in, and Jim Carrey is sobbing in his car, and Beck sings "Everybody's gotta learn sometime..." you will know that another person is as shattered and destroyed as you. Cry it out, everything is terrible.

2. Kramer vs. Kramer
Finding yourself and ending a relationship sometimes has an incredibly high cost, and this movie is really more about divorce and selfishness and having to handle things by yourself when you weren't ready for it. For added pain, begin to relate to both the son and Dustin Hoffman. Side note, Meryl Streep is so young and lithe and beautiful in this movie you'll probably start thinking hateful things about yourself, so handle with care.

3. High Fidelity
John Cusack counts down through the top five break ups of his whole life, and there's some great music along the way. This movie has a lot to say about relationships and messing things up and being unhappy and making terrible decisions so let it wash over you, take it all in and meditate on it. Also featuring one of the only times that Smog has appeared on a soundtrack, so a nice perk for those who care at all about the Bill Callahan/Joanna Newsom break-up spectacle (one out of every million people).

4. The Way We Were
The best element of The Way We Were is the fact that two very different people (Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand) manage to overcome their obvious differences and understand that the other person is exactly the kind of person they should be with. So often I think we choose people like us, sick little mirrors that mime our own problems back at us, and we're fooled every time we fall in love into thinking we choose a different kind of person. But we don't. Ignore all the '70s trappings and see through to the essence of their relationship, how two people beat the odds for a brief moment in time. I can never recommend this movie enough.

5. All the Real Girls
Seriously underrated, beautiful cinematography, outstanding dialogue and directed by David Gordon Green before he decided to make stoner comedies forever. Zooey Deschanel can actually act, and this is the evidence of it. Small town life gets complicated when the town playboy starts dating an innocent. The two of them struggle to make things work, and this is in the "relationships are so hard" portion of the list, if that tells you anything.

6. Like Crazy
Like Crazy might hurt you the most, because it's perhaps the most realistic about the difficulties and stupidity of young love so it's right in the middle of the pack. You can remember the good times more vividly and the devastation that comes from giving love your all. Bad choices, simple mistakes, and we're all paying for everything with our daily, lived lives. Watching other people careen head first into sorrow is never easy, but it will help in this case, promise.

7. (500) Days of Summer
God, this movie.

8. Sense and Sensibility
Yes it's a period piece, but it's got mega stars in it and is directed by Ang Lee, so buck up. When Marianne (Kate Winslet) stands on the hill in the pouring rain and stares at the house where her love has gone, sobbing relentlessly, you too may feel as if your heart will break. Who hasn't driven past their ex's house "accidentally," hmm? While the lows in this movie are pretty affecting, the positivity and devotion that it cherishes are ultimately comforting, so it's on the upward swing of this mix.

9. Someone Like You
Most people haven't seen this gem, ostensibly it's all about one woman's struggle to get over a breakup that leaves her devastated, but it's pretty off beat. Ashley Judd is so funny and great, and Hugh Jackman and Greg Kinnear are hilarious and in top form. The love that we make exceptions for can leave us blinded to a harsher reality, and when things come crashing down, leave us wrecked. Uh, yeah, still positive though.

10. Jerry Maguire
Kind of about sports, but that's a red herring, it's mostly about falling in love with someone who doesn't quite love you. The writing and performances in this movie (Bonnie Hunt, anyone?) make it worth a re-visit, as do the messages about learning to stick to a decision. Rene Zellweger and Tom Cruise may not have the best chemistry, but the tenderness of their relationship is absolutely well done and gently inspiring.

11. Say Anything
John Cusack again, and I apologize, but this is a great one, not only for the falling in love aspect, yet another romance that blossoms out of taking a chance and stepping outside of yourself, but for the way in which both parties deal with setbacks and break-ups. The final scene is powerful stuff, an ending solidly earned and heartily enjoyable.

12. Notting Hill
I have this movie memorized, moment for moment, the odd mix of bizarre humor as well as the fumbling adorability of Hugh Grant combined with the electric breakdown of Julia Roberts may prove to be a bit much for you, but there's grandly impulsive behavior here, tempered by justified reason. Spontaneity that finds a firm grounding in trust. The final scenes never fail to make me cry, and are as much of a promise of better things to come in our own lives as they are a testament to the joy of life, the idea that we are here to love and to be loved.

13. P.S. I Love You
Love alters not when it alteration finds, even after death, and it's heartening to think of loving someone so well, knowing them so intimately, that you prepared for them to go on living without you. To even wrap your mind around the concept that everyone you know someday will die, and you will be gone too just gets worse as you get older, so why waste even a second of your life with a surfeit of love?

14. The Holiday
With mixes, there's almost an obligation to end on a high gushy note. Kate Winslet's relationship problems are spot on, Cameron Diaz gets the better storyline though. Get plastered on hot toddies and watch the scene with the little girls in their play fort over and over again. Change is possible, love is real, and Christmas is coming.

15. Annie Hall
Perhaps one of the greatest relationship movies of all time. Two people fight it out and love it out over the years, and you have to just do it. Witty, sarcastic, loving, hateful, beautiful, complicated and messy; relationships are hard, and sometimes they end, even if two people love each other.

To love another person, in any capacity, is the hardest work that we do here on Earth. Even if it doesn't work out, look at you, you were so strong, you were so brave to try your best, and I love that. Don't stop because of this setback, don't curl up and dwell forever. You took a break, you grieved what was good between you two, and now it's time. You keep going, and I'll be right there too.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • TheOriginalMRod

    So... basically these should all be Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavors?

  • Scratch McGee

    I am possibly currently shaming all womankind by being in a relationship that, while really loving and fun, is lacking solid commitment from the guy- after three years trans-Pacific love and an engagement (broken, but hey, why is that a reason to call it quits?!)...and I can't bring myself to end it. I'm the end of Shawshank Redemption with all my "I hope" business... and while it's been recommended a few times here, I will never be able to bring myself to watch Like Crazy. Long distance doomed love? The inevitable shrivels my poor wee heart.

  • Someone Like You is such a hot mess of a movie, but I love it so so much. It's basically comfort food. Also, the alternate ending is better and has Ashley Judd admit that she was in crazyland for a better part of that movie (YES I WATCHED THE SPECIAL FEATURES).

  • jkb

    fun fact ... Someone Like You is based on the novel Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman ... the book is pretty good too :)

  • Ariel

    When my best guy friend from high school broke up with his girlfriend, he showed up at my house with a pint of Ben & Jerry's and the "Die Hard" trilogy. And I will always think of that as the perfect break-up film.

  • John G.

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a nearly perfect film. I watch it even in a happy relationship.

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    I own it on DVD and watch it twice a year when I'm feeling particularly melancholy.

  • Kizia

    That last paragraph is beautiful. My (ex)boyfriend just ended our four-year relationship yesterday and I really needed to read those words. I have copied and pasted them into a Word document, so I can look at them whenever I want. Thank you, Amanda.

  • Jim

    Oh, Amanda, Notting Hill? Seriously??

    "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."

    I will never forgive Julia Roberts for that line. Never.

  • tmoney

    Oh my god! I love the Holiday! I just don't think it's fair that Kate Winslet hooks up with Jack Black. She's just so stunningly beautiful, and Black, while funny and endearing is just not hot enough.

  • Nurse Hatchet

    My go-to breakup movie is Pulp Fiction. People get shot, some people flirt hardcore and then can't work it out, then some more people get shot. Wait; I just gave y'all way too much insight into my love life.

  • I have a similar thing with Heat. There's a big heist that's pulled off almost flawlessly followed by a shootout which sounds fucking great but people die.

  • Waitress is my number 1 breakup movie. Having just gone through a messy break-up, trust me.
    Actually, trust Pajiba. I think there's a review on here too.
    http://www.pajiba.com/film_rev...

  • Could pepper in a little... Away We Go, Blue Valentine (other side of Like Crazy's coin), In The Mood For Love, Amour (Haneke).

    At a push- A Single Man, for a couple of reasons.

  • Heather Anne Hogan

    Whenever I want to cry, I think about Pixar's UP. I don't watch it. My heart is still broken from watching it in the theater like five years ago, 3D glasses pushed up on top of my head so I could furiously paw at my teary eyeballs. But I think about UP when I want to cry and then I cry really really hard.

    This is a good list. I like your wisdom and elegant turns of phrase (in addition to your movie choices).

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Oh my goodness, thank you Heather Anne. That means a lot to me.

  • fartygirl

    When I'm feeling broken hearted, the last thing I want to watch is a movie where the couple ends up together. I'm sorry, but more than half of the movies on this list make me feel crappy about myself even when I didn't just get dumped. The first couple, yes. I want the comiseration of Eternal Sunshine, High Fidelity, and 500 Days of Summer. But the Holiday? Say Anything? I'd rather watch movies like The Joy Luck Club or We Don't Live Here Anymore - which show real people living through real pain and real problems and coming out of it all real effing resilient. That's what a post-break up movie is supposed to do, in my opinion.

  • Joy Luck Club absolutely KILLS me... then makes me feel slightly better if only for the fact that I lucked out and was born to an incredible family.

  • blorft

    This is so timely! I initiated a breakup last night and would really like to fast-track the sad feelings process. Except I became re-traumatized when I tried to find Sense and Sensibility and couldn't.

    Also, I nominate Forgetting Sarah Marshall as a balm on the pain of ending basically unhappy relationships.

  • jennp421

    I don't know, while I have watched these movies post break up, I feel like I need a list that reinforces "he's a jerk, you don't need him" rather than movies where the guy changes his mind/realizes his mistake and they get back together because I don't need anything reinforcing my false hope. Maybe Whip It - she loses the guy, realizes he's an ass, and has fun with her girlfriends. By the way, this is coming from someone that is horrible at letting go, and keeps responding whenever a certain ex decides he is unhappy or drunk, only to be ignored again for months on end .

  • $27019454

    There is, actually, a reason to watch Notting Hill. Her name is Emma Chambers and she is under appreciated, comedy gold, and flat-out wonderful, said the obsessed Vicar of Dibley fan...

  • Anne

    The Vicar of Dibley is AMAZING! I watch it all every year.

  • Heather

    Truly, Madly, Deeply! Judy Davis! Alan Rickman!

  • Koala is not a bear

    Juliet Stevenson :)

  • ParisTexas

    How about "10 films that are guaranteed to make you squirm if you are going through a rocky patch in your marriage/relationship" ... Blue Valentine, Revolutionary Road ...

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    Add Closer to that list. Watched that when my husband and I were first dating, talk about awkward.

  • AudioSuede

    This. Revolutionary Road will make you glad you aren't married.

    Unfortunately, I am.

  • Holly Martins

    Am I the only one who goes for bloodshed and dark humor ? Shallow Grave, The Ladykillers (1955)? Nikita? Jaws?

    But for the weak moment, it's The Purple Rose of Cairo that kills me. Everytime. 'Cause we're out together dancing cheek to cheek...

  • wsapnin

    re: #8 Sense and Sensibility
    You neglected to mention that it also contains Alan Rickman which makes it watchable just for that fact. But he always breaks my heart standing outside the door when Marianne is sick.
    re: #12 Notting Hill
    The reason the last few scenes always makes you cry is because of the song She sung by Elvis Costello. Just hearing that song makes me cry and wish my husband had played it for me at our wedding. But the poor schmuck couldn't name one Elvis Costello song if his life depended on it.

  • lowercase_ryan

    you have to be with somebody to go through a breakup. Damned if I can barely remember what it's like.

    http://www.deviantart.com/down...

  • Idle Primate

    its been so long for me, that not only do i not remember, this list and comments just seem like an alien curiosity that i can't relate to

  • Fabius_Maximus

    *sigh*

  • One of you Pajiba ladies reading this wanna ship for lowercase_ryan?!

  • lowercase_ryan

    that was intended to sound a little more jokey mcjokester than desperation dan. Internet fail.

  • Just a little solidarity! And, well, you never know. I hear some of these women are smart and pretty, if you're into that sort of thing....

  • lowercase_ryan

    so into that sort of thing.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Is Desperation Dan related to Denim Dan? If so, the Canadian Tuxedo might be part of the problem.

  • lowercase_ryan

    that shit is comfortable, modest, and durable. leave the denim out of this.

  • Bedewcrock

    Yes!*

    *except for Notting Hill. I just.......can't. I don't get Julia Roberts (outside of Steel Magnolias or Pretty Woman).

  • gord

    This article practically made me cry. But thank you.

  • sjfromsj

    I might try this to get over leaving my job. I'm feeling all the same emotions that come with ending romantic relationships. Despite leaving the job because it consumed my entire life and made me so incredibly unhappy, I still feel incredibly lost without it to define me and my time. It's been two weeks, and I still don't know what to do with myself most of the time. This list could be the antidote.

  • Legally Insignificant

    What about Love Actually? It's like the love Swiss Army Knife. You want heartbreak? You got it. You want love? You got it. You want naked Bill Nighy? You got it.

  • WhenSheWasGood

    Sometimes I feel really sad that I am, apparently, the only person in the world who doesn't like this movie and who is totally baffled why everyone seems to love it so much.

  • Bedewcrock

    This. You gotta read this because it is "Hate Actually" http://thehairpin.com/2011/12/...

  • Guest

    Reading that list makes me cringe. Perhaps I had a completely different interpretation of all of those romances but going through the reason why they hate it makes me feel like they missed the point of all the individual romances.

  • Bedewcrock

    that they're manufactured as a humorous indulgence and have very little realistic subplots? but that's why i love it!

  • AudioSuede

    Fuck it, I love that movie, and my wife loves that movie, and together we will out-enjoy the shit out of that movie compared to anybody who would tell us we're wrong because OH MY GOD CRYING LIAM NEESON GETS ME EVERY TIME!

    Whoa, sorry about that. Got a little caught up in my Ranma 1/2-esque transformation into a woman.

  • Bedewcrock

    I know. Seriously though, that's why I love it.

    Also, Emma Thompson crying to Both Sides Now kills me.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I can't believe I forgot the amazing break-up film "Bellflower." Wasted opportunity.

  • OneWing

    Thank Jeebus I've found others who love Someone Like You! "Because if it's not true, men don't leave all women, they leave ME." Makes me bawl every time.
    But P.S. I Love You is horrible. Genuinely irredeemable. (And that's before I even think about how Gerard Butler's accent maligned my people.)

  • LolaDies

    Totally agree with you. Irish and Scottish are NOT the same!!!
    And Ashley Judd will never be cuter and more relatable than she was in Someone Like You.

  • oilybohunk7

    I'm a big fan of Someone Like You. I've watched it a fairly ridiculous number of times.

  • valerie

    I love Ashley Judd, but when she starts comparing women to old/new cows...i can't deal

  • damnitjanet

    Sense and Sensibility (this version) is absolutely amazing. The Holiday is a guilty pleasure, but Cameron Diaz is HORRIBLE. Someone Like You???? SOMEONE ELSE LOVES THIS MOVIE?????? "My current cow doesn't understand me..."

    As for High Fidelity.....I rented that with my ex. Oh, it's John Cusack! And Jack Black! It'll be funny! No, John Cusack IS my ex in that movie...even down to the obsessive list making and collecting. Christ, that was awkward....

  • AudioSuede

    For true, The Holiday gets 3/4 stars, one for each of its leads that aren't fucking terrible.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    Your timing is perfect as I'm just going through a breakup myself and very much in the never-going-to-love-again phase. But I feel very strongly that nothing can fix "PS I love you". I found the after death stalking aspect creepy rather than heart warming. I'd suggest in it's place "The Lake House" as a more palatable (in my mind) exploration of the same theme.

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