Movies with Emotional Baggage

By Donna Arp Weitzman

For many of us, emotional baggage can build from a very early age, and it's important to release that baggage as we enter new relationships. Crazy, dysfunctional prior relationships can weigh heavily on your psyche, and wear you down mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Everyone has emotional baggage and on its own, it's not necessarily a bad thing.  The problem is not that you may have it, but what you choose to do with it. Do you keep your emotions locked in a closet? Not good.  Do you carry it around until your body aches? Also not good.

 Fortunately for us moviegoers, we always have great films and actors to help us relate on how they handle their personal emotional baggage and the stories they tell. Movies display the problems that we are trying to decipher and give us a direct or indirect road map on how we can combat and build off them.

Here are seven instrumental films in the last 20 years (don’t want to veer to much into the past as the current romantic climate has changed considerably since the internet) relatable to every generation on dealing with the ever-perplexing issue of emotional baggage.

 1.  You’ve Got Mail, 1998. Director Nora Ephron, Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The quintessential tech-based romantic comedy that features rivals away from the computer screen, characters Joe and Kathleen (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) unknowingly fall in love with each other via an email relationship and humorously deal with a number of common online dating issues. The story, a modernized little "remake" of "The Shop Around The Corner", is more fairy tale than realism -- two people fall in love over email, in war in real life, and however can such a thing be solved -- but it's an enchanting story nonetheless.

Credit to Getty Images

Credit to Getty Images

2.  Notting Hill, 1999. Director Roger Mitchell, Starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. This is the best romanic comedy in 1999, in my opinion. It's a story about an actress (Anna Scott played by Julia Roberts) at the height of her career finding the ordinary man (William Thacker played by Hugh Grant) in Notting Hill (an actual place in the UK) and falling in love with him. The unlikely story of travel bookstore owner getting involved with a mega-star actress is a fantasy but then it's a movie... and their story is fun to watch. Their quirky romance struggles a bit while they try to find a common ground for the couple from opposite ends of the spectrum- and the movie tries to convey that even famous actresses have normal needs, too.

 3.  Silver Linings Playbook, 2012. Director David O Russell, Starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawerence. Cooper plays a man being released from institutionalized care after a violent episode got him into trouble. Having lost his job and his wife, he is taken in by his parents who must contend with his bipolar condition. Cooper is single-minded in his pursuit to get back together with his wife, to the point of obsession. When he meets an odd young widow (Lawrence) dealing with plenty of personal demons, the two seem like they've got a lot in common. Of course, they seem perfect for each other but Cooper remains oblivious for most of the movie. The ending is perfectly timed out though with the synchronicity of both oddball personalities finally meeting each others match. 

4.  500 Days of Summer, 2009. Director Marc Webb, Starring Zoey Deschanel and Joesph Gordon Levitt. “This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should known in advance, this is not a love story,” intones the voiceover at the start of this bittersweet romantic comedy. Tom (Gordon-Levitt) grew up believing in fate bringing soul mates together whereas Summer (Deschanel) grew up not believing in much of anything, least of all lasting relationships. On the other hand, there's the duality between what one would like to happen and what actually does happen; we often go through life with expectations, even though we know deep down that most will never be met. Tom is in a tug-of-war between his romantic fantasies and the reality that Summer doesn't believe in true love.

5.  High Fidelity, 2000. Director Stephen Frears, Starring John Cusack and Catherine Zeta – Jones. Cusack plays a relatable guys kind of guy who owns a record store and is plagued by the unique flaws of each ex girlfriend. The movie is littered with inner dialogue with Rob’s (Cusack) past experiences and terrible luck with keeping stable relationships. However, as the movie evolves and Cusack’s character matures he realizes the right type of woman for his eclectic personality and oddball personality filled with self-actualized humor and an appreciation in music.

 6.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004. Director Michel Gondry, Starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Focused on two sadden love stories in unique perspectives all four main characters dealing with their own shortcomings. Clementine(Winslet) is a tragic woman who is constantly searching for the right soulmate that may appear in glimpses but always keeps her wondering. Her counterpart Joel(Carrey) is a quirky, soft-spoken introvert who struggles with his own confidence and observations. After learning of a operation that his girlfriend has had to remove him from her memory, Joel decides to copy the same procedure, although both in retrospect realize the emotional baggage and past they have with each other is better not forgotten. 

Photo Credit: Focus Features / Everett Collection

Photo Credit: Focus Features / Everett Collection

7.  Sideways, 2004. Director Alexander Payne, Starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Payne masterfully displays how emotional baggage can translate through friendship in this film as much as it can play out in the romantic arena as well. The main character Miles (Giamatti) plays a self-aware novelist who consistently over analyses his previous marriage. This results in daily bitterness of the idea of the love and the daunting process it takes on a person. But in a refreshing albeit abrasive manner, Miles friend Jack (Haden Church) brings a sense of humor and ignorant point of view to counter balance each other. Both dealing with past and current relationships, plan an escape trip to wine country; which in turn only winds up being a harsh dose of reality and the failure of not dealing with it head on. This movie feeds on emotion, Giamatti’s character doing it in a quiet self-analyzing way and Haden Church’s path more outspokenly wrapped around action driven mistakes.

 There are plenty more great examples in the archives of film to show how our favorite story – tellers deal with the encompassing emotional baggage that we all try to take on. But these 7 can bring great examples with laughs, tears and hopes surrounded by unique settings in cinema.