My favorite genre of film has always been romance—whether in the form of a cliché-ridden comedy starring Kate Hudson, or a heart-wrenching tale of unrequited love. But when I need a break from mainstream blockbusters, I turn my attention to independents. Romantic indie movies typically go against the grain of conventional filmmaking. Think limited budgets, lesser-known actors and no boundaries on creativity or experimentation. Over the years, the genre itself has earned credibility thanks to breakout hits such as “Juno,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Big Sick.” Today, one of the most accessible ways to catch these types of under-the-radar films is by streaming them. Check out our list of 12 romantic indie movies on Netflix that look at relationships differently.
Sleeping with Other People (2015)
In the realm of rom-coms, this IFC movie delivers a familiar narrative in a refreshing and admirable way that 2011 flicks like “Friends with Benefits” or “No Strings Attached” failed to do. Starring the always adorable Alison Brie and the never-not-charming Jason Sudeikis, the two reconnect after college at a sex addicts support group. The film follows them as they play out a pact to not sleep with each other again. Although cliché-sounding in its plot, the jokes in this movie hit quicker and harder than usual. The R-rating makes it raunchier. And you’ll find yourself actually rooting for the anti-heroes to win in the end.
Obvious Child (2014)
The relationship between Jenny Slate and director/writer Gillian Robespierre has grown tenfold since their first A24 film in 2014, “Obvious Child.” It tells the story of Donna (played by Slate) who is an aspiring stand-up comedian and after a one-time encounter with Max (Jake Lacy), she gets pregnant. The night leading up is filled with awkward but sweet-natured fun between the two, however, things take a turn when Donna decides to get an abortion and doesn’t tell Max. It’s one emotional hurdle that both the film and its characters overcome with witty humor, Slate’s neurotic energy and relatable strokes of self-doubt.
Lady Bird (2017)
This coming-of-age drama starring Saoirse Ronan did quite well for itself during the 2017 award season, earning 41 major nominations. “Lady Bird” not only explores the tortured relationship between mother (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter, it hones in on the often overlooked trials and tribulations of life as a teenager. Supporting love interests played by the fresh-faced Lucas Hedges and bad boy Timothée Chalamet fulfill their roles as stepping stones for Ronan, who is ultimately on a path to self-discovery.
While We’re Young (2014)
The romance in this film isn’t the in-your-face kind. In fact, if you blink, you might miss it. It centers around two couples—middle-aged Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) who befriend Brooklyn hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). It becomes a social commentary of sorts when Josh and Cornelia get infatuated with their new twenty-something besties, but the generational divide between Jamie and Darby proves that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are glimpses in which Josh and Cornelia contemplate the fate of their marriage and their decision to not have a family.
The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
If you’re looking for a romantic indie movie on Netflix with a captivating protagonist, look no further. Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is brutally honest, bold, confident—so does she really need a man to make her happy? Not exactly, but it’s nice to see her try. Enter Boone, played by Chris O’Dowd. Known for charming the pants off of women everywhere in “Bridesmaids,” O’Dowd doesn’t fall short here in this formless rom-com. Rather his relationship with Williams, although short-lived, will make you want to hang around and keep watching.
6 years (2015)
Monogamy isn’t just for the middle-aged. “6 Years” is the amount of time that young-adult soulmates Mel (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield) have been together. The film catches up with the couple on the cusp of finishing college and venturing into the real world. The two begin to face the hardest phase of their lives yet. Tempers flare, substances get used, violence is resorted to. The long-term relationship nears a breaking point which makes audiences wonder, how do you know when you’ve really found the one?
Blue Jay (2016)
If you’re into dialogue-fueled dramas, then you have to check out “Blue Jay” from the Duplass Brothers—which is essentially 85 minutes of improvised back-and-forth. The beauty here is in its simplicity. Shot in black and white, all the focus is on the chemistry between Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson) who were once high school sweethearts and have now unexpectedly reconnected in their hometown. The film itself was filmed in only seven days in Blue Jay, California, but their nuanced relationship doesn’t come across that way on the screen. Given its short runtime, there’s a rollercoaster of heart-wrenching emotion and storyline waiting to unfold—up until the very end.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
The offbeat plot to “Silver Linings Playbook” centers around Pat (Bradley Cooper), a bi-polar man who we meet after he’s released from a mental hospital. We learn shortly after there was an incident involving his wife which resulted in a restraining order, but that doesn’t stop his quest of winning her back. We are then introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s her own breed of crazy, so to speak. The two eventually cross paths in a matchmaking scenario, making an unlikely, but extremely likable pair. In a messy, quirky and twisted way, they’re both healed by each other’s love.
Straight Up (2020)
“Straight Up” is unlike any of the other romantic indie movies on Netflix—or Hulu, Amazon—any streaming platform for that matter. In a classic tale of gay boy meets straight girl, Todd (played by writer-director James Sweeney) suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that’s not even his biggest quirk. Todd avoids any sort of physical or emotional intimacy, and even convinces himself that his lack of same-sex encounters means he straight. So what kind of relationship is on display here? The banter-rich connection between Todd and BFF Rory (Katie Findlay) is one viewers can’t get enough of.
This Academy Award-winner defies genres, but bear with me when I say that it’s a love story. A complete opposite to movies like “Blue Jay,” “Moonlight” doesn’t rely on dialogue to speak its universal truths. There are also no grand romantic gestures, like in “Sleeping with Other People,” to prove intimacy. It’s more low key and subtle, while confronting massive themes like LGBTQ relationships and black male identity. The movie is powerful in its beautifully shot scenes, poetic in its entirety and revisits conventional relationships by conjuring empathy and intrigue in the viewer.
About Time (2013)
There are more than just romantic relationships at stake in “About Time.” There’s the bond between father and son. The connection we have to the past, present and future—and our role in it. But at the movie’s core, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mary’s (Rachel McAdams) pursuit of happiness is what will make you rethink what’s important in life. Once Tim discovers his gift of time travel, he toys around (albeit dangerously) with smoothing over moments of their relationship. What starts off as little fixes here and there turns into rewriting history. Begging the question, would you do it all over again if you could? And what would you fix?
The invention of virtual iPhone assistant Siri or Amazon’s Alexa has made the 2013 film “Her” feel all too real. When melancholy Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) enters into a relationship with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)—a computer operating system—the interaction between humans and AI is seen as an unconventional one at best. “Her” is the ultimate reimagined rom-com not only because it delves into sci-fi, but because it forces us to look at relationships in the modern world a bit differently.
Are there any other romantic indie movies on Netflix that you’d like to see on this list? Let us know below.