If you asked my 12-to-16-year-old self who the dreamiest celebrity was you would get one answer, and one answer only: Leo. I was of course referring to the Hollywood heartthrob, legendary actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, but, assured that our relationship was of an intimate variety, I always referred to DiCaprio by his nickname. Though he fit the type of my previous celebrity crushes — blonde, curtain-haired males, i.e. Wesley from “The Princess Bride” — my fixation with Leo was at another level.
As a tween, I watched “Titanic” religiously, swept under the spell of Jack Dawson’s boyish charm and animated ethos. While my heart eyes for “Titanic” have since lost their luster (to an extent I still enjoy an occasional indulgence), in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I figure that there is no better time to take a stroll down memory lane into the oeuvre of the actor that I crushed on for years.
Some eagerly await the arrival of February 14th, scanning Pinterest for cookie recipes and making swanky restaurant reservations. Others dread it, claiming that this day dedicated to love is nothing more than a decoy for overspending on flowers, chocolates and an over-priced ticket to the latest “Fifty Shades” sequel. Whether you’re a lover or a cynic, there is a DiCaprio flick to suit your V-Day mood.
Chock-full of chase sequences, top-notch acting and minimal lovey-dovey moments, “Catch Me If You Can” is your movie if you are looking for anything but love this holiday. Much of what makes this film so captivating is the absolute preposterousness of it. The plotline centers around the shockingly true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage conman who forges millions and fabricates a life of luxury, while evading the FBI in an extensive game of cat-and-mouse. Guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings, keep you on the edge of your seat and have you mesmerized over DiCaprio’s dazzling early-2000s looks, “Catch Me If You Can” is the perfect anti-Valentine’s Day watch, without overdoing it on the romance.
If “Catch Me If You Can” somehow fails to catch your fancy, “The Beach” is another great option on the less romantic side of the spectrum. In essence, a young traveler, Vicenarian Richard, aimlessly ventures abroad to Thailand in search of a mythical, isolated beach. Long story short, Richard is not the only one on his newfound slice of paradise, which leads to some bizarre and violent situations. While in all honesty not DiCaprio’s finest work, this movie is a fun mindbender and emits an unsettling “Lord of the Flies”-meets-“Castaway” vibe that makes it an overall worthwhile watch. Plotline aside, the very fact that the film takes place in a tropical climate is reason enough to give it a shot for the experience of a virtual escape from the chilly Ann Arbor weather.
Now for the romantics: Of course, there is the obvious, timeless choice of “Titanic” to get you in your feelings. It has the passion, the tragedy and Celine Dion’s glorious vocals as the cherry on top. That said, I would still argue that a superior pick is “Romeo + Juliet,” my personal favorite of DiCaprio’s early works. Even if you already saw this in tandem with reading Shakespeare in eighth grade English, as someone who has seen the film at least 10 times, I can attest that it is without a doubt worth the re-watch. The Baz Luhrmann adaptation of the star-crossed-lover tale is romance at its finest. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes embody Romeo and Juliet respectively with a funky, psychedelic and ’90s-tinged freshness. Fulfilling both your itch for a hazardous, doomed teenage love affair and your ever-present middle-school angst, this movie kills two birds with one stone and without a doubt receives the Valentine’s Day stamp of approval.
There you have it. An early-2000s Leonardo DiCaprio enthusiast’s suggestion for your Valentine’s day movie selection. While I can’t claim this to be the most diverse of movie-lists, I can verify that it is the closest to my heart, and what’s more in the spirit of Valentine’s Day than that?