“Happy Death Day 2U” follows college student Tree Gelbman, who again finds herself dying over and over until she can reveal her killer’s identity.
Looking for love at the movie theaters this Valentine’s Day weekend? That’s going to be a challenge.
The “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise, and its S&M take on romance, has ended its controversial domination of mid-February date nights, a run that lasted three of the past four years.
2019’s releases for Valentine’s weekend include a slasher film (“Happy Death Day 2U”), a futuristic action flick with a powerful cyborg (“Alita: Battle Angel”) and a family with big dreams of joining the WWE who idolize The Rock (“Fighting With My Family”).
The closest thing to something like 2010’s holiday lovefest “Valentine’s Day” is the comedy “Isn’t It Romantic,” in which Rebel Wilson’s rom-com loathing Natalie finds herself stuck in a romantic comedy world after taking a blow to the head. She’s not happy.
“The weekend is no longer about this commercialized, romantic image of Valentine’s Day,” says Jackie van Beek, whose comedy “The Breaker Upperers,” about two women who professionally end relationships, makes its debut Friday on Netflix. “It’s now for all those people who are not going to be sitting down for a glass of chardonnay with their true love next to a vase of carnations.”
Van Beek, who says she has zero regrets about missing V-Day with her husband while she’s promoting her movie with co-director, co-writer and co-star Madeleine Sami, says audiences don’t need traditional movie romances.
Tastes are changing, too, as audiences gravitate toward different genres on Valentine’s Day: 47% of 1,000 moviegoers polled by ticket site Fandango.com for USA TODAY say they want to see an action movie.
“It’s not just men – even women want to see action films on Valentine’s Day, and we’re seeing that at the box office,” says Fandango correspondent Nikki Novak. “Women are not interested in the traditional, sappy rom-coms of the past. They want something fresh and different. And if there’s romance, they want it with a twist.”
The major releases slated to open Valentine’s weekend feature female leads, including Wilson. Rosa Salazar stars as the fighting cyborg in “Alita” (whose screen boyfriend calls on her for help), Florence Pugh’s Saraya “Paige” Bevis (rather than her brother) takes off in the WWE to win the 2014 Divas Championship in “Fighting With My Family,” and Jessica Rothe’s Tree Gelbman must repeatedly protect her friends stuck in the death time-loop she broke out of in 2017’s “Happy Death Day.”
“Women’s role in film has completely changed, especially in the last two years,” says Novak. “If you put out a traditional rom-com from 15 years ago, that just wouldn’t hold up today. It’s like, why does the woman need the man?”
“Isn’t It Romantic” draws on meta references to past romantic comedies for laughs, with a self-empowering message that loving oneself is most important.
“It calls out the question. ‘Are these romantic stories we have told ourselves helpful or hurtful?’ ” says director Todd Strauss-Schulson, who binge-watched 80 romantic comedies in 10 days before starting the project. “It’s not helpful that they seem to say that true happiness lives outside out of yourself with someone else, and if you do find someone, you will never be sad again.”
His movie tries to be what the best romantic comedies achieve: “A celebration of life.”
“Just as a human being on Valentine’s Day, I would prefer to see a movie and be reminded about that message,” Strauss-Schulson says. “That’s nice.”
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