This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.
Our goal here is simple: to help you curate the perfect Rolodex of movies that will help you deal if or when things with your loved one fall apart. And, to help us in our quest for catharsis, we’ve consulted the very academic Kübler-Ross model of handling grief, which divides the process into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (because, above all else, we here at Refinery29 are nothing if not academics, of course).
There are many different types of breakup movies: the ones that are actually about breakups in the literal sense and the ones that deal with the different stages of breakups metaphorically. For instance: (500) Days of Summer. That’s about breakups. The Hours, on the other hand, is about handling grief, an emotion that occurs after any loss — especially the loss of a relationship. Because a list of breakup movies exists around every corner of the Internet, we’re digging deeper into the films that will help you cope with those separations in a far less overt but no less helpful way.
Movies, above all else, are therapeutic. The best ones allow us to relieve, relive, or re-evaluate our most tender experiences in a way that no other art form can. Click through to see our picks for the films that will aid you in getting through every one of those five stages — and straight on to renewal.
DENIAL: Silver Linings Playbook
There’s nothing sadder than watching someone refuse to accept the end of a relationship, but that’s what makes the burgeoning romance between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s manic lovebirds so darn powerful. It’s only once Cooper’s character learns to let go of the woman who abandoned him that he can see the woman who’s standing right in front of him.
DENIAL: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Have you ever wished you’d never met the person who broke your heart? In Charlie Kaufman’s oddball romance, Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) has that wish granted via a mysterious procedure in which the memories of his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) are erased. It’s only then that he realizes the love they shared was worth the loss, but simultaneously, we are destined to repeat our same mistakes — no matter how good our intentions may be. Sometimes, love is just not enough.
DENIAL: (500) Days of Summer
Who else but Zooey Deschanel’s crush-worthy manic pixie dream girl could take a man’s heart and totally pulverize it? In Marc Webb’s refreshing take on the rom-com, that man is Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hopeless romantic who must suffer the pains of a disintegrating relationship, before he emerges clear-eyed on the other side.
Imagine the premise of The Other Woman, except, instead of the pretty and palatable Cameron/Leslie/Kate trio, you have a maniacal Roseanne Barr with an angry mole. After being treated horribly by her husband, Barr’s Ruth goes after her husband’s four assets — home, family, job, and freedom — taking down the campy, WASP-y Meryl Streep (who is in true comedic form), who stole her husband. Brutal, evil, and demonstrative that hell hath no fury.
ANGER: Desperate Living
Within the first half-hour of this grating, disgusting, absolutely filthy John Waters film, Mink Stole curses out children, kills her husband, and goes on the lam with her lesbian lover. This pic teems with an urgent sense of discomfort and proves that bad guys get what’s coming to them, often up their own butts. Literally.
“I just killed my best friend.”
“And, worst enemy…”
Of course, we aren’t advocating any sort of accidental-murder crime spree here, butHeathers is the perfect reminder that sometimes the people stuck in your life are the ones who are the most poisonous. And, nothing feels better than Winona Ryder telling the psychopathic Christian Slater that all she wants is “Cool dudes like you out of my life.”
ANGER: Legally Blonde
There is one major takeaway from Legally Blonde: The best revenge is busting your ass to challenge yourself, meeting your goals, exploring new ventures, and not changing who you are in the process. So, you know, do that.
ANGER: War of the Roses
No, this isn’t about pre-Tudor England, but about a couple with a seemingly perfect marriage that begins to fall apart. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner bitterly turn on one another and harness their possessions, pets, and, um, chandeliers to destroy the other. Spoiler alert: It works, and it is darkly, morbidly hilarious.
BARGAINING: My Best Friend’s Wedding
Watching Julia Roberts play a woman who wants what she can’t have is like watching a cow go swimming. It’s not supposed to happen. But, as a lifelong careerist pining for her best friend as he plans his, duh, wedding, Roberts convinces us that falling in love with the wrong person is just as hard as it sounds.
BARGAINING: Chasing Amy
Ben Affleck’s Holden ends the movie by actually bargaining with his best friend and his girlfriend, offering a pretty stupid solution for all of the tension between them. And, the thing is, you can’t persuade anyone — especially yourself — to accept the one you love.
BARGAINING: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Yes, this is the one where Jason Segel gets naked. But, he bares a lot more than his private parts as a lovelorn sound mixer forced to get over his famous girlfriend (Kristen Bell). He kicks and screams and begs and pleads for her back, before finally realizing they were never meant to be. How does he get there? Two words: Mila Kunis.
DEPRESSION: Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance’s autopsy of a relationship-gone-bad is a staunch reminder that all things fall apart. Please forgive us for our doom-and-gloom perspective, but after watching Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams trade gut-punch after gut-punch as a couple caught in a downward spiral, we’re sure you’ll agree. Relationships. Are. Hard.
Watching Jack Nicholson’s bandaged gumshoe roam through Roman Polanski’s bleak depiction of postwar Los Angeles is just as depressing as it sounds. This classic neo-noir — in which the rich get richer, the disenfranchised drown, and corruption is rampant — is a staunch reminder that the world we live in is a scary, scary place.
DEPRESSION: The Hours
One of the things this Oscar-nominated film does so well is depict the complex, isolating nature of depression. And, not just depression, but, particularly, feminine depression. Three different women, three different time periods, and one emotion connecting them all. The film is a deft reminder that, despite any perceived evidence to the contrary, no one is really alone.
ACCEPTANCE: The First Wives Club
Yes, this movie does work on the premise that, after a certain age, your husband will probably leave you for a younger woman, which kind of sucks. But, it also affirms the power of a womanly bond and what happens when determined, strong women focus on something other than men.
ACCEPTANCE: An Unmarried Woman
Another man-leaving-for-a-younger-woman tale, this snapshot of New York in the ’70s doesn’t just address the end of a relationship but the sexual liberation of women as well. Jill Clayburgh, who was nominated for an Academy Award for this role, goes through the same five stages of Kübler-Ross outlined here, but she emerges from the other side empowered — and sexually fulfilled.
ACCEPTANCE: Postcards from the Edge
Adapted from Carrie Fisher’s true life story about getting clean and heading back to acting, Suzanne (Meryl Streep) has to sober up in order to continue with her film career, which means confronting sleazy producers, coming to terms with her overbearing mother, and dealing with addiction. Messy Meryl is both earnest and darkly dry. The film has a wise assumption: Many of us have dysfunctional relationships with our mothers, and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can start laughing.
ACCEPTANCE: How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Terry McMillan’s life-affirming tale of a middle-aged divorcée (Angela Bassett) who (what else?) gets her groove back is the kind of movie that will convince you that sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. Especially when the other side is made up of a wise-cracking Whoopi Goldberg, the sun-drenched island of Jamaica, and Taye Diggs with his shirt off.
ACCEPTANCE: To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
While this movie has no real romance (Chi-Chi’s fling hardly counts), the lesson is powerful: You are who you are, and grace, class, and a sense of goodness are the best ways to be fabulous. That, and a “Say Anything Hat Day.”
RENEWAL: Breaking the Waves
We don’t normally turn to chronic pessimist Lars von Trier for tales of redemption, but in this mesmerizing tearjerker, he puts Emily Watson’s fragile, young Bess through an emotional firestorm before bringing her back via a spiritual epiphany that will stay with you for days, months, and years.
The opening montage of Pixar’s modern classic is admittedly one of the most devastating sequences ever put on film. But, after our curmudgeonly widower develops an unlikely friendship with a pudgy Boy Scout, our faith in humanity is restored.
RENEWAL: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Thematically, this is a story about beginnings. Just think about what a magical journey Harry (and film fans) have ahead of them. Let’s all take the opportunity to start again.
This poignant tale of redemption features Keri Russell as a stuck-in-neutral baker who finds new life in the form of a handsome doctor (Nathan Fillion) and a bun in the oven. No, not the kind that’s cream-filled, but the kind that takes nine months to be done.
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