10 Best Alternative Romantic Comedies of 2023: A Fresh Perspective on Love


10 Best Alternative Romantic Comedies of 2023: A Fresh Perspective on Love

Romantic comedies often follow a typical formula: two unlikely individuals cross paths in chaotic situations and are repeatedly drawn together until they finally acknowledge their love for one another.

But sometimes, we yearn for a more authentic portrayal of love. We crave love stories that don’t neatly tie up with a happy ending, stories that embrace the messiness and obstacles that come with relationships. We desire protagonists who defy the conventional beauty standards set by magazines.

Thankfully, in indie movies, things rarely unfold as expected. The guy might not always get the girl, and the plot doesn’t always adhere to a predictable trajectory from the outset. Prepare yourself for a collection of indie romances that will challenge your beliefs, leaving you both skeptical and deeply touched, offering a fresh and enlightening perspective on love.

1. Charlie Bartlett

Charlie Bartlett
When Charlie Bartlett hit theaters in 2007, it didn’t exactly take the world by storm. Maybe it was because the film’s unique premise didn’t quite resonate with the typical rom-com crowd of the time.

The story revolves around our protagonist, Charlie (played by Anton Yelchin), who finds himself expelled from a private school and forced to attend a new public school. Charlie has his fair share of personal struggles – his dad is in prison, and his mother battles with depression – but he’s determined to fit in and become popular. In an attempt to achieve this, he sets up shop in the boys’ bathroom, offering “therapy” to his fellow classmates. To add to the mix, he even dishes out medications that he acquires from various psychiatrists he visits.

As Charlie gains notoriety within the school, he also finds himself drawn to Susan (played by Kat Dennings), the principal’s daughter, who happens to have a serious drinking problem – played by none other than Robert Downey Jr.

This combination of heavy themes such as substance abuse, drug use, and suicide deviates from the typical teen rom-com formula. However, it is precisely this willingness to delve into these difficult topics that has garnered Charlie Bartlett a loyal following of fans throughout the years.

2. (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer
In most rom-coms, it’s usually quite clear who we’re supposed to be rooting for. However, there have been a few rom-coms that have managed to split audiences in terms of who they cheer on in the film. One such example is (500) Days of Summer.

The movie revolves around Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as he reflects on the 500-day span of his relationship with Summer, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel. What makes this film unique is that the memories of their relationship are presented in a non-linear fashion, gradually revealing that Summer had made it clear to Tom that she wasn’t interested in anything serious. Despite this, Tom finds himself head over heels for her and refuses to accept that they can’t be something more.

Whenever Tom tries to broach the subject of love and their future together, Summer either changes the topic or avoids giving a direct answer. Eventually, the two part ways, and the film concludes with Tom meeting Autumn, who could potentially become his next love interest. This focus on a main relationship that fails, rather than on a new relationship that succeeds, along with the non-chronological storytelling, sets (500) Days of Summer apart from other rom-coms.

3. What If

What If
The 2013 indie film What If, also known as The F Word in some countries, gave Daniel Radcliffe a chance to venture into the rom-com genre while avoiding the intense publicity of the Harry Potter franchise. In the movie, Radcliffe portrays Wallace, a British guy who resides in Toronto with his sister following a heartbreaking discovery of his girlfriend’s infidelity.

At a friend’s party, Wallace crosses paths with Chantry, played by Zoe Kazan, who happens to be in a committed relationship. Despite their undeniable connection, they make a mutual decision to remain just friends. However, as their friendship deepens, their friends play a mischievous role by swiping their clothes during a skinny dipping escapade, resulting in an awkward situation where they are compelled to share a sleeping bag while being naked.

This film beautifully captures the essence of that concealed crush that many of us have encountered at some point in our lives. It also highlights Radcliffe’s ability to shine as a romantic lead, proving that he is more than capable of taking on diverse roles.

4. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
In 2008, the film Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist was released, featuring the relatively unknown Kat Dennings and the up-and-coming comedic star Michael Cera. The duo displayed great chemistry in this romance that unfolds over the course of one night in New York City.

The story revolves around Nick, played by Cera, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend Tris, portrayed by Alexis Dziena. In an effort to cheer him up, his friends embark on a quest to find a secret show by his favorite band. Simultaneously, we follow Norah, who attends the same school as Tris and is also searching for the same show. Meanwhile, Tris attempts to win Nick back, while Norah contemplates reuniting with her ex.

As they cross paths throughout the city, Nick and Norah find themselves drawn to each other. Eventually, they decide to meet at Penn Station, where they share an adorable kiss. With its captivating music and the unique backdrop of New York’s music clubs, this off-beat rom-com has become cherished by many people today.

5. Garden State

Garden State
Garden State is a dream come true for many indie rom-com creators. Despite its meager budget of $2.5 million, it managed to rake in a whopping $35 million at the box office. Zach Braff, who not only wrote and directed the film but also starred in it, drew inspiration from his own experiences and stories he had come across while growing up in New Jersey. This infusion of authenticity adds a special touch to the movie.

The story revolves around Andrew, a struggling actor played by Braff, who returns to his hometown in New Jersey after receiving the devastating news of his mother’s passing. During a visit to his doctor, he encounters Sam, portrayed by Natalie Portman, a self-proclaimed pathological liar. As Andrew copes with the loss of his mother and his father’s resentment towards him for a childhood accident that left his mother paralyzed, he finds himself developing strong feelings for Sam. Initially, Andrew contemplates leaving Sam behind to deal with his personal issues before diving into a relationship, but their love proves to be powerful enough to bring him back.

What sets Garden State apart is its ability to seamlessly blend heavy and dramatic elements with the overall lightheartedness of the film. This unique combination creates a truly touching and enjoyable viewing experience, filled with both humor and emotion.

6. Adventureland

Adventureland is set in the ’80s and revolves around James, played by Jesse Eisenberg, whose plans for a summer trip abroad are dashed due to his parents’ financial struggles. In order to make some money, he takes a job at an amusement park. It’s here that he meets Em, portrayed by Kristen Stewart. As their connection grows, James discovers that Em is involved with Connell, the married maintenance man at the park, played by Ryan Reynolds. Despite facing heartache, the story concludes with a glimmer of hope for James and Em to reconcile.

What truly distinguishes Adventureland from other romantic films is its unique cast, which includes Martin Starr, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig, adding a touch of quirkiness to the setting. Although Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart may divide audiences, many fans agree that their performances in this film showcase their acting skills.

7. I Want You Back

I Want You Back
I Want You Back scratched an itch for audiences craving a love story between deeply imperfect people when it came out in 2022.

The plot follows Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate), two strangers who were both recently dumped. After a chance encounter, they decide to team up and sabotage the new relationship of each other’s exes, hoping that this will drive the exes back into their arms. As they scheme to get back their former lovers, Peter and Emma slowly realize they enjoy each other’s company the most.

This movie feels fresh mainly because of its casting. Day and Slate are both comedic actors who aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. This makes them more relatable and flawed characters than the protagonists in some romantic comedies. Additionally, the movie is filled with laugh-out-loud jokes from its stars and supporting cast, which includes Gina Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, and even a cameo by Pete Davidson.

8. Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People
In rom-coms, it’s rare for the main character to do things that make you question if you should root for them. But that’s exactly what happened in 2015’s Sleeping with Other People. Lainey, played by Allison Brie, kicks off the film by breaking up with her boyfriend because she’s been cheating on him. She even attends a sex addicts meeting, realizing she may have a problem. It’s here that she unexpectedly crosses paths with Jake, played by Jason Sudeikis, who she lost her virginity to in college.

Initially, Lainey and Jake agree to just be friends, but it doesn’t take long for that plan to crumble. They find it increasingly difficult to ignore their growing romantic feelings for each other, all while offering advice on their respective dating lives. This taps into the relatable experience of falling for your best friend. Sleeping With Other People prompts the audience to contemplate the role of sex in relationships and how to identify genuine emotions.

9. Palm Springs

Palm Springs
Palm Springs caused quite a stir when it came out in 2020 with its fresh take on a time loop narrative. The film introduces us to Nyles, played by Andy Samberg, who attends a wedding in Palm Springs and crosses paths with Sarah, portrayed by Cristin Milioti. The two decide to sneak away to the desert for a little romance. However, things take a bizarre turn when an unexpected man, played by J.K. Simmons, appears out of thin air and shoots Nyles with an arrow. In a panic, Nyles retreats into a nearby cave, warning Sarah not to follow. But, against his advice, she does and wakes up the next morning only to realize that she is trapped in a time loop, just like Nyles has been for quite some time.

Throughout the movie, Nyles and Sarah grapple with the reality of reliving the same day repeatedly, each in their own way. While the concept may remind you of other popular time loop films like Groundhog Day, what sets Palm Springs apart is its unique approach of throwing two characters into the loop together. This clever twist challenges them to either grow closer or drift apart as they embark on a quest to break free from the cycle.

10. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Michael Cera is widely recognized as the reigning star of indie rom-coms in the 2000s. One of his standout films is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has gained fame for its remarkable lineup of future stars in supporting roles, including Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Brie Larson.

The story revolves around Scott Pilgrim (played by Cera), a bass player for an indie band who instantly falls head over heels for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) upon their first encounter. However, Scott soon learns that he must defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes in order to be with her. Thus, he embarks on a series of epic battles, each one more extravagant than the last.

The film successfully incorporates many of the distinctive elements found in the graphic novel on which it is based. Onomatopoeic words like “POW!” appear on the screen to emphasize the impact of a punch, and the fight scenes are outrageously over-the-top. This unique style of filmmaking may not have appealed to everyone seeking a conventional rom-com, but it has cultivated a dedicated and passionate following over time.

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