A Dozen Unconventional Romantic Gestures To Dazzle Your Valentine

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Flowers, heart-shaped chocolates, overpriced cards: what if you’ve been there and done that? You’re going to need to try something new this Valentine’s Day – and with the help of cinema, we’ve come up with a few ideas to wow your loved ones with. Sure, a few of them are slightly impractical and/or life-threatening, but we’re sure you can find a way to make it work...

Give her a library

As seen in: Beauty And The Beast

Valentine's Day

Is your other half a bookworm? If they’re a bibliophile or a librocubicularist (“one who reads in bed”) the perfect present could be access to your enormous personal library, which you happen to have in a forgotten wing of your enchanted palace, if Beauty And The Beast is anything to go by. It’ll cure that abibliophobia (“the fear of finding oneself without a book”) once and for all, and keep him or her entertained for aaaages.

Possible pitfalls: If you don’t happen to have an enchanted palace or enormous library, this is a little difficult. The modern, high-tech answer is of course a Kindle or iPad or something of that sort, but a) you risk running up a large bill in eBooks, and b) it isn’t half as likely to land you an honoured place on Bookshelf Porn.

Use your last photo on him

Valentine's Day

As seen in: Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow

Hard-nosed reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) spends the entire running time of this gorgeously shot but slightly undercooked story scheming and conniving to get the perfect story and the pictures to match. During the second half, she loses the bag with her spare films in it, and is stranded with only two exposures left on her trusty camera – and an entire adventure to try to capture. But in the end, she uses her last photo on her beloved, Jude Law’s Sky Captain himself, just cause she totally lurves him.

Possible pitfalls: Don’t do what Polly does and leave the lens cap on for a start. Secondly, if you have readily-available sources of film and aren’t a star reporter caught up in the story of a lifetime, this probably isn’t going to have the same impact. Thirdly, if you’ve gone digital this’ll never work, because your beloved will just suggest deleting something to make more room. Basically, this is one for hipsters on a gap year only.

Give her a bunch of flours

Valentine's Day

As seen in: Stranger Than Fiction

No, we haven’t lost the ability to spell. Ordinary schlub Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) finds himself falling for the baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he’s been asked to audit. He turns down the cookies she offers him on the basis that these could be considered a bribe, which leads her to kick him to the curb – but he wins his way back into her affections with a bunch of flours, all different types. This is a definite winner, ladies and gentlemen: it shows consideration for your date’s interests and considerable wit as well. Don’t just use this on bakers: see if you can come up with other spins on classic gifts to match your true love’s tastes.

Possible pitfalls: If you’re gluten-intolerant or adhering to a low-carb diet, this particular present could lead you into a world of hurt. Also, similar puns on “box of chocolates” and “Valentine’s Day card” are much harder to come by.

Renovate your way to her heart

Valentine's Day

As seen in: The Notebook (2004)

When Ryan Gosling presents Rachel McAdams with the keys to her dream house – which, it should be added, he’s forged from bricks made of love and tiles wittled from pure emotionality – a billion men wept. No longer would flowers and chocolates suffice. That splatting sound we heard was the Milk Tray man throwing himself off the nearest cliff. The gesture is so beautiful, though, we forgive him. After all, Gosser’s romantic ideals survive war, the disapproval of his girlfriend’s snobby family and all the plot twists Nicholas Sparks can throw at him. Somehow he stays true to his promise to rebuild a grand but decaying Carolina mansion. It’s one of the most romantic gestures in movie history, although possibly a squeeze for us to emulate in five days. Quick, everyone to Homebase!

Possible pitfalls: Be careful not to build that dream house on an ancient Indian burial ground. It’d be a bummer for those swooningly romantic moments to be interrupted by a slavering beast demon. Also, keep an eye on property prices - it may be a good time to sell.

Give her all your hard-earned

Valentine's Day

As seen in: City Lights

One of the most selfless gestures in the history of cinema because the recipient – blind, penniless flower girl Virginia Cherrill – can’t know the lengths Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp has gone to help her find the $22 she needs for rent. She thinks he’s a millionaire; he’s actually not much better off than she is. There’s so much to inspire us in his schemes to make money for her, but most of us would sooner part with our last Rolo than get beaten to a pulp in the boxing ring or sent to the slammer, so this will probably only appeal to the most dedicated romantics out there.

Possible pitfalls: What could possibly go wrong giving all your earthly belongings away to someone who doesn’t even know who you are? Well, plenty, really, but while there’s a glimmer of romance and love in the world, we’re saying that the Tramp is a romantic role model for the ages.

Make his favourite food

Valentine's Day

As seen in: Benny & Joon, Lady And The Tramp, Juno

Valentine’s doesn’t have to involved overpriced products repackaged in red and pink; you could just cook something special. If you’re Johnny Depp’s eccentric Buster Keaton fan Sam, for example, and dating Mary Stuart Masterson’s disturbed Joon, you could make grilled cheese sandwiches with her iron and ironing board. If you’re a rough-edged terrier trying to woo a spaniel, you could offer her the last meatball on your plate of spaghetti. And if you’re a pregnant, wise-cracking teen, you could fill your beloved’s mailbox with the orange-flavoured breath mints that he adores. So many options!

Possible pitfalls: Seriously, beware ironing grilled cheese sandwiches: wearing a crumb-embossed, slightly cheesy shirt to the office will not help you win friends and influence people. Equally, pushing a meatball around a plate with your nose can result in unbecoming redness and ridicule, and while Tic-Tacs may contain just one calorie each, there is such a thing as a surfeit thereof.

Sell your toys

As seen in: The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Valentine's Day

This one won’t cost you a penny; in fact, it could make you a fortune. One of the signs that Steve Carrell’s Andy in The 40 Year-Old Virgin is growing into an honest-to-God adult relationship with Catherine Keener’s Trish is that he agrees to sell his beloved toys – OK, ‘collectables’ – to fund plans to open his own store. It works – and how! We later learn that he made half a million dollars from his mint action figures and comics. So not only will you and your inamorata cease to fight about how much space all this stuff is taking up, but you could make enough to buy a new house to boot.

Possible pitfalls: If your collecting is anything like ours, it won’t make quite so much cash as in this case – more likely a couple of quid, most of which goes in eBay fees. And – as for the film’s Andy – it can be a traumatic process to divest yourself of stuff you’ve treasured for so long, so you might need to spend all of that on counselling to get you through it. In other words, it might not be that lucrative, but it still shows love.

Draw her portrait

Valentines As seen in: Titanic (1997)

Okay, this probably isn’t one to pull out on your first date, but if you’ve got a secret artistic talent and a set of HB pencils why not take bring them to bear sketching your lover in the nuddy? Props are helpful – a necklace so ginormously bling it has its own name, a rococo cabin and a chaise lounge would all be helpful – but even if you don’t live in an episode of The Antiques Roadshow or have access to P. Diddy’s jewellery drawer, all you really need is a little talent, a big heart and a pad of paper, and the latter you can nick from work. There is one caveat to all this, though: Jack’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) scampish, unpredictable ways actually mask some real artistic talent. If you're going to make your loved one look like they’ve just wandered in off a Salvador Dali landscape, stick to flowers.

Possible pitfalls: You don’t have time to get it laminated before the ship sinks or, worse, you’re totally crap at drawing. If you have little talent or lots of money, you could always take a leaf out of Anna Smith’s (Julia Roberts) book in Notting Hill and find someone who’s better at art than you. Like Chagall.

Buy them a musical instrument


As seen in: Once

Like painting or drawing, musical gestures are probably only for romantics with the raw talent to back up the sentiment. If you’re Jim (Jason Biggs) in American Pie 2, one misjudged move and you’re improv-ing a trumpet solo in front a baying crowd. Then again a little jazz flute, Ron Burgundy-style, can surely melt the iciest heart. Still, we’re saying that the safest option is just to buy your musical other half the instrument and leave them to tinkle merrily away, composing ditties about how great you are. This is the massive-hearted gesture of Once’s nameless Dublin busker (Glen Hansard), who buys his star-crossed love (Markéta Irglová) a piano, even though their stars are about to uncross, possibly forever. He even has it delivered. Not just achingly romantic, but practical too.

Possible pitfalls: Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a problem. Also – and this is a biggie – never buy anyone you care about a recorder. This is a weapon, not a musical instrument.

Build the world an aquarium

Valentine's Day

As seen in: Rushmore

Nothing says love like a horny stickleback or a mutated sea bass, so blazered kook Max Fischer may be on the right track with his plans to open an unauthorised aquarium on the grounds of Rushmore Academy. We’re not saying that his plans to win the heart of his age-inappropriate teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) aren’t a little crazed and obsessive, but you can't deny that his heart and soul are poured into the scheme by the gallon. He plans to stock the fishy enterprise with giant squid and electric eels, and even negotiates a job-lot of piranhas from South America. The problem? Miss Cross is a bit too baffled by his teenage crush to appreciate the gesture – let’s face it, it’s a bit bonkers in a lovelorn, Wes Anderson-y way – but it’s the kind of sweepingly oddball manoeuvre that could just kickstart a passionate courtship.

Possible pitfalls: Opening an actual aquarium for your other half will leave him or her with tank cleaning, ray maintenance and flakey fish supper buying to worry about, so look for outsourcing solutions. Better yet, just buy them a tank, a few koi and a year’s supply of flakey fish suppers. If that turns out to be too tricky, take them out for cod and chips.

Plant them a field of flowers

Valentines As seen in: Big Fish

If a dozen red roses feels a little clichéd, why not go six thousand steps further and present your beloved with an entire field of flowers? In Big Fish, Young Edward (Ewan McGregor) does just that, using a little romantic know-how imparted by Danny DeVito's circus impresario. He says it with daffodils - the 'it' being something on the lines of "I ruddy love you!!" - knowing that they're the favourite flower of his Sandra (Alison Lohman). Sure enough she's utterly swept away by his passion, imagination and ability to tell a hardy perennial from a spring-flowering bulb. Your move, Interflora.

Possible pitfalls: Planting thousands of flowers outside a sorority house - at night - is a task that should only be attempted by the truly green-fingered. Sure, when you've finished and are standing in a sea of daffodils you'll look like the world's most romantic person, but before that you'll just look like a man digging holes in a girl's school lawn. You'd have to be a ninja Alan Titchmarsh to get away with that.

Organise an urban treasure hunt


As seen in: Amélie

Amélie (Audrey Tautou), coquettishly adorable in every way, understands that in love it's the little things that mean the most. She dedicates herself to fixing the broken lives of those around her; tiny acts of kindness that go unnoticed by not unfelt. This kind of selflessness may be the most romantic of gestures (See also: Rick at the end of Casablanca) but sometimes the day needs a'seizing, even in a demure, shy way. For Amélie this involves the most head-spinningly complex game of kiss-chase in the history of cinema romance. Her treasure hunt leads Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) across Paris and, ultimately, into her arms, while we just swooned quietly.

Possible pitfalls: As The Supremes once sang, you can't hurry love. Translated into a treasure hunt scenario, this basically means several days spent travelling through an urban environment dealing with all the threats and dangers that presents. We're not saying don't do it, just keep your wits about you. Also, pick a city that isn't Cairo.