Each February, men cower at the prospect of another Valentine’s Day, and with it the monumental expectations that the forces of romance (Hallmark, Hollywood, Stephanie Meyer) have engendered in women everywhere. Some men will rely on the tried and true methods of their predecessors to please a lady: a little candlelight here, a bouquet of roses there, and voila! – safe from the doghouse until at least March. Others, though, aim higher, hoping to devise the kind of poignant and personalized gesture she’ll remember for a lifetime. While this latter option is secondhand for the experienced lothario, it is an exercise in anxiety for the overwhelming majority of us.
Fortuitously, it seems, many of the romantic savants of our time write movie-scripts for a living, thus leaking a veritable cornucopia of insider-dating secrets into the public domain, where neophytes like you and I can borrow, steal and duplicate as we see fit. Without further ado, here are ten on-screen romantic gestures that I wholeheartedly encourage you to make your own this Valentine’s Day:
After sharing many a wistful drink in a lonely hotel bar, Bob (Bill Murray) says goodbye to Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) amid the hustle and bustle of midday Tokyo. Just what he says, no one knows. Thus: a secret.
What You’ll Need: Your library voice, something poetic to say, someone worthy of hearing it.
Don’t Just Give Her Something Meaningful; D.I.Y.
As Seen In:Like Crazy (2011)
Early in their relationship, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) mentions offhandedly to Anna (Felicity Jones) that her desk chair (where she spends hours reading and writing everyday) isn’t very comfortable. So naturally he – being a design student – makes her a new one. Her speechless and bleary-eyed reaction upon receiving it (as a birthday gift) indicates that the “thought” counts a lot more if you D.I.Y.
What You’ll Need: Elbow grease, some basic arts-and-crafts know-how.
Related Reading: Max (Jason Schwartzman) attempts to build an aquarium for Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) in Rushmore; Landon (Shane West) designs a telescope for Jamie (Mandy Moore) in A Walk to Remember; Noah (Ryan Gosling) renovates a house for Allie (Rachel McAdams) in The Notebook.
I won’t waste too much breath on this one, since most girls I know can recite the entire screenplay from memory. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) loves Juliet (Keira Knightley), his best friend’s wife. Mark articulates these feelings on cue cards. Mark reveals said cue cards to Juliet. Women everywhere melt like butter.
What You’ll Need: Legible penmanship, Sharpies, a generous helping of cheese.
Related Reading: Terminally ill Gerry (Gerard Butler) leaves behind a trail of love letters for Holly (Hilary Swank) in P.S. I Love You.
Make Her a Wager
As Seen In:Happy Gilmore (1996)
After persuading her to accompany him on a date to the local ice rink, Happy (Adam Sandler) issues Virginia (Julia Bowen) a friendly wager: “If you get that puck in that net over there, I’ll never bother you again. But if you miss, you gotta give me a big, fat kiss.” The beauty here: even though she converts (“Talk about your all time backfires,” he responds, dumbfounded), Happy’s ruse pays dividends. Virginia lays one on him despite walking away the victor, visibly smitten with his playful antics.
What You’ll Need: Some form of competition (beer pong doesn’t count), a worthy adversary, spoils (dinner, a massage, or, yes, sexual favors).
Related Reading: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) challenges Quincy (Omar Epps) to a game of one-on-one for his “heart” in Love and Basketball.
Take Her to a Special Place
As Seen In:All that Heaven Allows (1955)
Cary (Jane Wyman) is an affluent widow. Ron (Rock Hudson) is a rugged, boyish landscaper. A romance between them would have violated many social taboos in mid-century America, and it is thus that conflict arises in this Douglas Sirk-directed melodrama. The solution to her trepidations, Ron finds, lies in a visit to his home: a remote and rustic log cabin that enchants Cary from the moment of her arrival.
What You’ll Need: That “special place,” a reliable mode of transportation.
Related Reading: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shows Summer (Zooey Deschanel) his favorite urban panorama in (500) Days of Summer; Harry (Jared Leto) and Marion (Jennifer Connelly) sneak up to the roof to fly paper airplanes in Requiem for a Dream; Aladdin shows Jasmine “the world” (shining, shimmering, splendid) in Aladdin.
When John (Mickey Rourke) asks Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) to put on a blindfold, she dutifully abides, setting the stage for one of the more provocative scenes in cinematic history. John proceeds to stimulate all her most intimate parts not with his hands, but rather an ice cube, sending shivers down her body and adolescent males everywhere to the nearest cold shower.
What You’ll Need: A blindfold, ice cubes (bonus points if they’re phallic in shape), a killer opening line.
Related Reading: Matt (Josh Hartnett) teases Erica (Shannyn Sossamon) with rose petals in 40 Days and 40 Nights; Matt (Kieran O’Brien) ties up Lisa (Margo Stilley) in 9 Songs.
Before you raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of an American Pie installment on a guide dedicated to romance, consider this: groom-to-be Jim (Jason Biggs) – he of the two left feet – enlists the tutelage of the detestable Stifler (Seann William Scott) so that he can share a proper first dance with Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) on their wedding night. She positively swoons upon realizing he has learned to ballroom dance for her. What makes this gesture so poignant is its selflessness: Jim could probably care less about his lack of rhythm, but in amending it, he expresses a willingness to make Michelle’s interests his own.
What You’ll Need: A new hobby: the more loath you are to learn it, the more she’ll appreciate your devotion to it.
Related Reading: Jamie (Colin Firth) learns Portuguese to communicate with Aurelia (Lucia Moniz) in Love, Actually.
Send Her on a Treasure Hunt
As Seen In:Amélie (2001)
Amélie (Audrey Tautou) sends Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) on a wild-goose chase through Paris, eventually leading him to his lost photo album and, more importantly, her. Although the filmic version of this gesture features girl as benefactor and boy as beneficiary, don’t hesitate to reverse the roles and recreate it accordingly.
What You’ll Need: Thorough knowledge of an urban or suburban landscape, a lively imagination, time to kill.
Act Like Children, Preferably in Public
As Seen In:Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) takes paramour Paul (George Peppard) to Woolworth’s, where the pair playfully futz around with various wares (a party horn, lampshades, inhabited fishbowls) before pocketing (facing?) a pair of children’s dress-up masks (“stealing for the thrill,” Holly calls it). While I certainly don’t condone shoplifting, I do encourage you to embrace your inner child – it provides a nice foil to the hyper-masculine overtures we typically revert to in hopes of impressing a woman.
What You’ll Need: Nostalgia, a lack of inhibition.
Related Reading: Faye (Faye Wong) and Officer 663 (Tony Leung) play hide-and-seek in Chungking Express; Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) make imaginary phone calls to one another’s friends in Before Sunrise.
Get Her Flowers – But Not Just Any
As Seen In:Big Fish (2003)
Most men will go the safe route and buy red roses for their sweethearts this Valentine’s Day. But why not break from tradition, ala Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor), who presents Sandra (Alison Lohman) with a field of daffodils, privy to the fact she regards them as her favorites. Planting a field might be a tad ambitious – given seasonal constraints – so a smaller arrangement will have to suffice. If you don’t know what she likes, a discreet phone call to her mother or a good friend might be in order, which will likely evoke a maudlin “Aww!” and further reflect favorably upon you.
What You’ll Need: Some insider information and a well-stocked florist.
Related Reading: Harold (Will Ferrell) assembles a box of assorted “flours” for baker Ana (Maggie Gyllenhall) in Stranger than Fiction.