When they go low, fall in love with them.
My favorite song of all time is "Lover, You Should've Come Over" by Jeff Buckley. It's also my biggest red flag. The song is about a man who lets the love of his life get away for pretty much no reason. Some interpret it as a song about infidelity. I just say it's the toxic person's anthem. Our lonesome man knows he should treat his lover better, but he blames his youth for why he can't.
"Maybe I'm too young to keep good love from going wrong" is one of the best lyrics ever put to melody — but a cop-out is a cop-out.
While I'm not here to talk about breakup songs — you can find those here — I am here to muse about how art, whether it's film or cinema, can make it feel romantic to be kind of toxic. We see unhealthy, unrealistic portrayals of love all the time. We hear that we should stick by our lover no matter what. We see people, usually heroines, sacrificing themselves and their value for medicore men with good hair. Oh, to be a 90s movie heartthrob and have it all for doing nothing.
For example, the 2022 season 2 of White Lotus basically moralized playing games with your partner to keep them interested. We cheered on as characters deceived, manipulated, and cheated on their partners — most of them ending up happier than ever.
But this trope goes way further than the lifetime I've been waiting for White Lotus Season 3. The saying "All's fair in love and far," alludes to this sentiment: when it comes to love, we want to believe that the end justifies the means.
Whether or not this is true, on Valentine's Day we replace these notions with cliches like hearts and candy. Love is suddenly a sappy, saccharine affair about devotion and dedication. Even if you're toxic during the rest of the year, Valentine's Day begs you to be wholesome and happy.
I say, no, thank you. Valentine's Day makes me want to sink into the very bottom depths of my Jeff Buckley-inspired longing and dream of the kind of love Taylor Swift was talking about in "Cruel Summer" and "The Way I Love You." The kind that Jeff Buckley was screaming, crying, throwing up for. The kind that's codependent and problematic but hits so differently when you're in it.
Just for one day, let me be toxic. And let me start with these toxic romantic titles:
10 Things I Hate About You
It's in the title. Should hate be integral to love? I don't know, but I do know that I've never loved the "enemies to lovers" trope more than Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Their whole relationship is based on lies and invasions of her privacy all because she's a "shrew" — God forbid a girl read Sylvia Plath and back into your car on purpose. It's also an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, so here's the proof that toxic love goes back centuries. And we still can't get enough!
500 Days of Summer
500 Days of Summer is mostly toxic because it's so misunderstood. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel shaped a generation. Too bad most of us didn't understand how problematic JGL's character was when we first watched it. Let this be a warning: run from anyone who makes liking The Smiths their whole personality. Long live the manic pixie dream girl.
Speaking of manic pixie dream girls, nothing beats Natalie Portman in Garden State, and Closer. Closer edges out the former on the toxic-scale because no one is redeeming in this ensemble cast. Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Clive Owen join Portman in the craziest, most compelling, love square filled with misunderstandings, missed connections, and a whole lot of lies.
The Family Stone
Speaking of love squares, The Family Stone takes keeping it in the family to a new level. Though this is technically a Christmas movie, it's larger-than-life plot and twisted, toxic take on accidental romance transcends the holiday. The all-star cast doesn't hurt either: Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson and Craig T. Nelson.
If you're doubtful about this film's place in the category, look beyond the warm and fuzzies the nostalgia gives you. It's a great movie, and Forrest might be wholesome, but just like that box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. From his obsession with Jenny to her pretty much using him at the end when her life takes a turn, toxic romance really does span decades.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ever get wrecked by a relationship so bad you feel like you need a lobotomy to forget about it? Yet somehow, the good times in these relationships feel the sweetest. What you need: a therapy session. Then, a rewatch of Tumblr favorite, Eternal Sunshine.
Stuck In Love
This movie follows the members of one family, recently wracked by divorce, as they try to find and keep love. Their stumbling attempts reflect their own traumas and how their family determined their relationships to others. All this to say: it's toxic on purpose, and that's enough for me. Logan Lerman is one of the few redeemable characters in this.
Anything that started as a Wattpad book is going to be the most toxic thing you've ever watched. Especially if it began as a One Direction fan fiction about Harry Styles. But if you're in the mood to actually rot your brain, start here.
You knew this was coming. Beyond the Mormon propaganda of it all, this is just an insanely codependent relationship that rewired the brains of a whole generation at an early age. No wonder we all crave unreal, unhealthy relationships. Don't even get me started on Jacob and Renesmee.
The fact that I think Gone Girl is romantic says everything you need to know. But they end up together in the end and that's what matters! Sorry to EmRata's character. Toxic recognizes toxic.
Male manipulators, rise!
Hulu's High Fidelity
Honorable mention: While High Fidelity was originally a novel adapted into a movie starring John Cusack, the Hulu revival starring Zoe Kravitz and Da'Vine Joy Randolph is a force to be reckoned with. Kravitz as Rob is inspiring in her insufferable personality. And, of course, in her outfits. She inspired everyone in Bushwick to dress well and blame everyone else for their problems. My hero.