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4 Romantic movies for Valentine’s Day based on literary classics

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Perfect for a date night, these films are streaming right now.

Ah, love. How can we not, well, love it? We love the loves of our lives. We love loving the loves of our lives. We love being in love. And truth be told, we love getting chocolate from them on Valentine’s Day, too, if we’re into that sort of thing (and, this year, if they give it to us a day early so we can eat it before Lent starts!).

But you know what else we love? Looking smart! And you know what makes us feel smart? Literature! And as luck would have it, classic lit offers something in the love department, too. Western civilization’s greatest authors had plenty to say about love: how to find it, how to lose it, how to find it again and how much it can mess us up in horrible, horrible ways. So influential were these authors, in fact, that they shaped how many of us even think about love.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the most romantic, most literary ways we can spend Valentine’s Day, and all without leaving our Netflix queues. Every single one of the following movies is available to stream on the service right now.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Photo Courtesy of Focus Features

Russian writers aren’t known for their light, happy-go-lucky prose, and the book Anna Karenina is no exception. My paperback version logs in at 754 pages, and there’s not a single paragraph that would feel at home in a Katherine Heigl romcom.

While Tolstoy’s intricate tale does qualify as a romance, it’s a tragic one, built more on lovesickness than a healthy, happy manifestation of love. The Oscar-nominated movie version, starring the rather radiant Keira Knightley, is a big more digestible and significantly shorter than Tolstoy’s classic novel, but be warned, the R-rated film comes with a few problems of its own (some sensuality and a bit of violence). Still, at its core, the movie never condones the fractious, unhealthy romance we see from Ms. Karenina, and instead encourages us to celebrate and embrace what we have — not what we sometimes unwisely lust after.

Emma (1996)

Photo Courtesy of Miramax

If Anna Karenina cuts against the grain of today’s romantic comedies, this Jane Austen classic was practically the template for them. Emma (played by Gwyneth Paltrow in this charming 1996 version) is described in the book as “handsome, clever and rich,” not to mention extraordinarily convinced she’s England’s most insightful matchmaker. Mr. Knightly, her friend and seemingly the soul voice of reason in her life, tries to dissuade her from some of her ill-advised matches, but to no avail. She turns her own pampered little world on its head until she realizes that she herself has fallen in love — with the person she’d least suspect. This PG-rated  film is witty, sweet, and ever-so British, and definitely worth a look

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“Her voice is full of money,” someone says of the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, the enduring love of the mysterious Jay Gatsby. But his love for her is not to be: She’s married to an arrogant ex-football player and encased in the old money of East Egg, Long Island. He’s an upstart millionaire in West Egg, who parlayed his fortune through (it’s suspected) some rather dubious means. They’re separated by the bay, by breeding, by tragic circumstance … but it doesn’t stop him from loving her — and potentially sacrificing everything for her. Let me admit something: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a favorite of mine, and no movie can hold a faint green light to Fitzgerald’s utterly radiant prose — certainly not Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical 2013 on the book. But the 1974 movie comes as close as any to capturing the spirit and atmosphere of Fitzgerald’s classic. Featuring two of the biggest stars of the age — Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy — this PG film practically shimmers with style.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

I’m cheating a bit here: Midnight in Paris is only as old as Woody Allen’s screenplay for this 2011 charmer, and I rather doubt freshmen will ever crack copies of it in English lit. But the film, featuring Owen Wilson as a time-traveling writer named Gil Pender, allows us to meet a slew of literary titans inhabiting bohemian 1920s Paris, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. Look, Woody Allen’s films (like Allen himself) have problems: In his world, love is something to slip into and out of like a pair of jeans. Midnight in Paris offers a nod or two in that direction (those 1920s writers weren’t exactly the most upstanding of folks), but it also offers a deeper moral: That we oftentimes romanticize the unattainable past at the expense of our truly worthy and lovely present. Moreover, the PG-13 Midnight in Paris is a dreamy, charming tribute to unquestionably one of the most romantic cities on earth.

And so we end our walk through some of the most love-struck literary classics ever brought to the screen. We promise you won’t be tested on them afterward, but we can’t promise that you won’t sigh heavily at their conclusion and ponder the wonder, power and presence of the great state of l’amour.

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