As much as I appreciate that saying indie films are my favourite film genre makes me sound like a bit of a snob, you can’t deny that indie films have a particular flair for the way in which they teach their life lessons that the big studio movies just… don’t. The lessons on life and love in mainstream films are almost always overt and uncomplicated, if somewhat unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always love myself a bit of Disney, but I’m not going to base my romantic relationships around the sort created by Walt Disney.
The messages we get from indie films require us to do a bit of soul-searching, and its those sorts of lessons that teach you the most. Here are my top five indie films, and why I love them for the lessons they taught me.
FYI – spoilers ahead!
1. Call Me By Your Name
The music of Call Me By Your Name was the soundtrack of my summer in 2017, and the film itself is one I’ll go back to a hundred times over. Even though Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) didn’t get their Disney-style happy ending, the film – in a melancholic yet soothing way – taught me that just because a relationship doesn’t end in the way you’d like it to, that doesn’t detract from everything that was good about it.
Juno is one of those films that will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry, and that’s not the only lesson it teaches you about how relationships and romance will affect you. The biggest thing I learnt from Juno is that love doesn’t always manifest itself in a strictly conventional way. Just like Juno (Ellen Page) doesn’t realise she is in love with Paulie (Michael Cera) until the majority of the storyline has played out, often you discover what love really feels like at the moment when you least expect it.
3. (500) Days Of Summer
In a discrete way, 500 Days Of Summer taught me the tough lesson that you can’t force love to happen. It took me a second viewing to realise that the relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Tom, and Zooey Deschanel’s character, Summer, wasn’t perhaps something to strive for. Tom’s idea of his ideal girl was based on a stock character type, and ultimately Summer was never going to live up to that ideal, and he was inevitably going to end up heartbroken.
500 Days of Summer gave me an honest portrayal of what it’s like to fall in love and have your heart broken in a way that doesn’t seek to make a joke of it, but rather shows it for what it is, in a way that, in hindsight, is kind of funny.
4. Girl, Interrupted
In a similar, but more extreme, way to 500 Days of Summer, Girl, Interrupted is again a useful resource for examples the sort of red flags to look out for in love, and life. You just wouldn’t get this stuff from a Disney film.
Angelina Jolie’s character, Lisa, exudes ‘love’ of a toxic, manipulative kind, and her mental illness seems to offer validation and condonation for how she treats the people around her. As much as Susanna’s (Winona Ryder) attraction to Lisa is inspired by her charisma and exciting rebellious side, ultimately this film teaches us that true love depends on more than just the passion and the thrill, but that it relies on a strong, mutually supportive relationship between two people.
5. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Whilst Tumblr has kind of made something of a cliché of the lessons I learnt from watching The Perks of Being A Wallflower, that doesn’t detract from the message of the film. More than anything, this quintessential coming-of-age film taught me a lot about the particular kind of love that is your love for your friends. After a few watches, it’s the strength and endurances of the friendships in the film that overshadow the negative examples of romantic love.