Ah, the course of true love never did run smooth. Come to think of it, nor did it always neatly conclude with a Richard Curtis cookie-cutter declaration from Hugh Grant. The harsh reality is, sometimes you’re just a girl, standing in front of a boy… who ghosted you two months ago and is now stood behind you in a checkout queue with his new girlfriend. Such is life.

So time and time again, we turn to film to give us solace that when it comes to matters of the heart, things will be all right. And while there’s nothing like revelling in the easy comfort of The Notebook and When Harry Met Sally, sometimes the old-school favourites can’t quite deliver on the fact that love – who we love, why, and where we love – has never been more complicated.

And in an age where sexuality is still taboo, of social media burnout, swiping, equality, inequality and choice (so much choice), it’s refreshing to see a film that doesn’t necessarily end with John Cusack holding a boombox outside your window.

Here are the underdog films that portray love in all its glorious kaleidoscopic refraction – in all its cringeworthy, unconventional, mind-expanding, inconvenient and wholly undignified form.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Nothing to see here folks. Just a love story about a guy and his doll. Seriously. The doll here in question is an internet-order life-sized ‘love’ doll and the guy: a pathologically shy Ryan Gosling navigating life with his somewhat, ahem, unconventional silicone paramour. Despite its at-first-glance smutty subject matter, the heartwarming film is strangely pure, and has a lot to say on the importance of community, loneliness and simple human kindness.

Ruby Sparks (2012)

What’s love (and free will) got to do with it? Starring real-life dream indie couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, Dano plays an anxious young novelist whose struggles in his romantic life are seemingly solved when his fictional dream-girl comes to life. With a few stabs on his typewriter, he can make his now living, breathing girlfriend Ruby speak French, strip or even profess her love for him. From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, a film about men, power and control has never felt more timely.

Appropriate Behaviour (2014)

“I’m looking for the grown-up underwear of a woman in charge of her sexuality and not afraid of change.” Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all verbally assailed shop assistants with our actual unfiltered fashion needs? Hilarious and comfortably brazen, Appropriate Behaviour (the title of the film is revealing in itself) follows Shirin, a bisexual Iranian-American twentysomething, struggling with her parents’ traditional expectations, as well as her recent break-up from her girlfriend. Snaps to Brooklyn filmmaker and indie wunderkind Desiree Akhavan, who starred in, wrote and directed the comedy.

Tangerine (2015)

Shot entirely on an iPhone (yes, really), director Sean Baker’s dizzyingly energetic and massively underrated masterpiece follows two trans women of colour, Sin-dee and Alexandra. Best friends and prostitutes, the pair traverse the seedy underbelly of LA, making it their mission to exact revenge on a cheating boyfriend. It somehow manages to be simultaneously sweet and sordid, but importantly, marks a huge leap for trans representation in film.

The One I Love (2014)

Think couples therapy, but way, way creepier. Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass attempt to save their crumbling marriage by going on a countryside retreat, but find themselves faced with something truly bizarre waiting for them in the guesthouse. Without spoiling the mystery twist central to the film, it begs the question: if you could have the glossy 2.0 version of your partner, without all the crags, habits and irritating idiosyncrasies, would you?

Sleeping with Other People (2015)

Yes, it’s true. The friends-with-benefits storyline is nothing new. But the hackneyed genre sees a refresh with this genuinely funny take starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. One a womanising commitment-phobe and the other a self-sabotaging ‘love-addict’, the pair try and maintain a strictly platonic relationship while tackling the messiness of dating (other people, of course) and challenging notions of monogamy. Also, David Bowie’s “Modern Love” soundtracks the pair crashing a children’s birthday party while on MDMA and that’s really all you need to know.

Closer (2004)

“Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off, but it’s better if you do.” Based on Patrick Marber’s award-winning play, Closer centres on Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen as four people hellbent in their intertwining, destructive pursuit of love and sex. The absolutely brilliant dialogue is chock full of brutish one-liners in this savage look at seduction and relationships in their nastiest, coldest form.

Blue Jay (2016)

Like a slow, winding view out of your car window that all of a sudden blindsides you with emotion, Blue Jay is the unassuming gem that I physically have to stop myself bark-recommending to everyone I know. The ever-brilliant Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass (who also wrote and directed the film) play high-school sweethearts who meet by chance almost two decades after breaking up. With their mesmerising onscreen chemistry, the pair take a trip down memory lane, revisiting lost love, old mistakes and regret. You’ll never hear Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s” the same way again.

Her (2013)

As clearly demonstrated by Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, we all have tech fear. We fear that technology’s ability to enhance our relationships will eventually impair them through its unnatural interference (nope, just me?), and this uneasiness is taken to the next level in Spike Jonze’s Her. Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely divorcée who falls in love with a Scarlett Johansson-voiced operating system (think a sexier, more accommodating Siri). Expect a dadcore retro wardrobe, cybersex, and the realisation that it might not be only humans that are susceptible to a wandering eye.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

It’s 1962. In a cramped apartment block in Hong Kong, a man and woman suspect their respective partners of having an affair with one another. Visually rich – all moody curls of cigarette smoke, dappled floral wallpapers and the best onscreen wardrobe I’ve ever seen (actress Maggie Cheung in endless divine cheongsam dresses), this slow-burning masterpiece is about yearning, betrayal and desire. The pair inevitably fall in love, but refuse to act on their feelings as “we’ll never be like them”, so resort to aching side-glances, which eventually culminates in one heartbreaking scene at the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Ultimately, the film highlights how being with the wrong person is undeniably the loneliest experience of all. Sophia Coppola has regularly cited Wong Kar-wai’s film as her inspiration for Lost in Translation.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Twentysomething Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is a social media stalker who moves to California in her obsession to befriend glossy Instagram influencer (Elizabeth Olsen). In the oft showy age of stomach-churning #boydonegood hashtags and couple-bragging, Matt Spicer’s black comedy makes an important commentary on love in the age of social media and how more likes on your painfully staged one-year anniversary ‘gram doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness behind closed doors.

Moonlight (2016)

Okay, not underrated in the slightest (as demonstrated by last year’s Best Picture Oscar win), but Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight deserves a mention for its haunting coming-of-age exploration of love, friendship, identity and sexuality. The three-part film centres on a young African-American boy growing up in a hardened Miami neighbourhood, eventually coming to terms with and accepting his homosexuality. Beautiful, heartbreaking and what was no doubt a mainstream breakthrough for LGBT narratives.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Ever had a break-up so bad you wish you could erase the person from your life? Charlie Kaufman’s bizarre science-fiction-meets-comedy-drama hybrid sees Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as an estranged couple who, after a huge row, both undergo a procedure which promises to wipe all memories of their partner. But the bumbling staff at the clinic (Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo included) botch the job and what ensues is a disorientating and dreamlike trip down memory lane. Wonderfully weird, the film looks at the fragility of memory – as well as the human impulse to seek out love against all better judgement, again and again.

Blue Valentine (2010)

I mean, when a score is headed by Ryan Gosling’s sombre croon of “You always hurt the ones you love”, it’s probably not going to be the most uplifting film. But seriously, this one should come with a parental advisory warning of being one of the most explicitly depressing films of all time. Flitting back and forth in the timeline of couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), the film chronicles the eventual disintegration of their relationship. Yep, pretty dismal stuff. Nevertheless, it highlights the all-important fact that break-ups surely teach us as much about love as relationships do.

Obvious Child (2014)

Struggling stand-up comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) is brutally dumped, loses her job and then gets accidentally pregnant after a drunken one-night stand. Think Knocked Up for the millennial age, but so much more relatable and likeable. While the film deals frankly with serious (and still taboo) topics such as abortion, it ultimately champions finding humour in your most difficult situations. The dialogue is genuinely hilarious and Slate is infallible as her raw, vulgar and oh-so-messy character.

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick is based on the stranger-than-fiction IRL story of its writers, Pakistani-born stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his American wife Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani plays a younger version of himself, a man who struggles with his traditional Muslim background and familial expectations, especially when he begins to fall in love with then-girlfriend Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). The offbeat comedy explores everyday racism, loyalty and culture, as it then follows the unbelievable true story of Gordon ending up in a medically induced coma (yes, really), with Nanjiani having to keep vigil with her parents by her hospital bed.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

We’ve all been there. Like most teenage girls, Minnie (Bel Powley) is yearning for love, sex and acceptance. But unlike most teenage girls, she finds forbidden solace and sexual awakening in the much older boyfriend of her mother (a creepily moustached Alexander Skarsgård). Set in 1970s San Francisco, expect the standard teenage angst reminiscent of most coming-of-age films, but also drugs, explosive family tensions, and a surprisingly non-judgemental look at a young girl exploring her body and her limits.

The Graduate (1967)

It’s the classic that launched a thousand MILF jokes, with Simon & Garfunkel even penning a song for her (Mrs Robinson, obvs). But in all seriousness, The Graduate is a must-see satirical comedy that speaks volumes about youth, societal restraints and romantic experience. Dustin Hoffman plays a 21-year-old college graduate who is seduced by his love interest’s cigarette-wielding, leopard-print-mad mother. It’s worth watching, even if it’s just for the much-deliberated and ambiguous ending. Well, what happens after the fairytale ending and the laughter stops?

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

There’s a reason that CMBYN is one of the biggest films of last year. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a 17-year-old boy who falls for his father’s slightly older student (Armie Hammer) and it’s a sumptuous portrayal of first love and heartbreak, set in sun-drenched northern Italy and soundtracked by Sufjan Stevens (blissful, right?). By letting their romance play out, uncomplicated and unchallenged, it is a film that is first and foremost about love, and manages to transcend its same-sex focus while adding that important mainstream allure to the LGBT canon. Warning: you’ll never look at a peach the same way again.

The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

Three words to describe the titular character, played by actress and comedian Jessica Williams? Sassy as fuck. Yes, it’s not a coincidence her name parallels the infamous outlaw. She’s a badass and she knows it, with the film opening with her giving a lacklustre first date a severe dressing down. On the rebound after a bad break-up, we follow Jessica, an aspiring twentysomething playwright, in her adventures in New York. We root for adorable divorcée and potential love interest, Chris O’Dowd, as she dates around, stalks her ex (standard) and chases her ambitions.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

Break-ups are hard (no shit). But thankfully most of us won’t feel the urge to hang out with our ex every day while he’s still living in our guesthouse. But hey, it works for divorcing couple Celeste (Rashida Jones, who also co-wrote the script) and Jesse (Andy ‘dick-in-a-box’ Samberg), who try to remain friends after their conscious uncoupling. Don’t expect a When Harry Met Sally-type solution with this one, but welcome the cliché-free and weirdly relatable watch. Plus, it cemented Rashida Jones’ position as the post-break-up poster-girl of my dreams.

Carol (2015)

Carol (Cate Blanchett) is an unhappy, divorcing woman who becomes enthralled by shy shop assistant Therese (Rooney Mara) after they meet by chance in a department store. Set in 1950s New York – so all fabulous fur coats and hazy indoor cigarette-smoking – the pair swiftly develop a forbidden bond that they must hide from everyone around them. In one scene, Therese longingly watches a man and woman, untroubled, walking down the street holding hands. The film makes you think hard about the duality of people and the perils of hiding who you are.

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

We’re all familiar with the fanfare surrounding Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight. But before Moonlight there was Medicine for Melancholy, his romantic drama which follows Micah and Joanne, an African-American man and woman, who spend 24 hours together after a one-night stand. Set in San Francisco, the pair cycle around the city, dance and hit the obligatory rom-com-required photo booth for goofy snaps. The difference though? Their post pillow talk is littered with opinions on racial stereotypes, gentrification, and living as a minority in a constantly changing city. Refreshing stuff.

Enough Said (2013)

Ah, finally. A middle-aged romance for the masses (more appealing than it sounds, promise). Divorced single parent Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) begins dating Albert (the wonderful James Gandolfini in one of his final roles) but finds it hard to ignore his flaws when she unknowingly befriends his very vocal ex-wife. Smart, lovable and genuinely hilarious (I watched this with my mum and there was definite uncontrolled hooting in close vicinity).

Weekend (2011)

Boy meets boy. And what ensues is a fleeting but life-changing weekend spent together, which challenges both their preconceptions about love, sex and intimacy. Directed by Andrew Haigh and shot in Nottingham in just over two weeks, the easy-flowing, low-fi and oh-so-brilliantly British feature has much to say about gay identity, seizing opportunities and the risks we all face when opening up to someone new for the first time.

Take This Waltz (2011)

Is it inevitable that everything once shiny and new, with time, always eventually dulls itself into predictable, uninspiring routine? An insanely adorable Michelle Williams (seriously, you can’t take your eyes off her) plays a freelance journalist, married young to Seth Rogan, a jolly, slightly portly chef. Her world is turned upside down when she meets a handsome stranger on a work trip. What next? Of course, temptation and then the age-old dilemma: do I owe it to myself to be happy even if people get hurt along the way?

Lady Bird (2017)

It’s the coming-of-age film that’s propelled first-timer Greta Gerwig into the big leagues as the fifth woman ever to be Oscar-nominated for Best Director (ridiculous, but true). Saoirse Ronan leads as an outspoken teen who brazenly navigates first times in love, sex (hello, Timothée Chalamet) and heartbreak during her final year of high school. Modest, yet utterly enchanting and lovable. Warning: will make you want to call your parents to tell them you love them straight after. No lie.

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