Whenever I would sit on a flight with my family and be forced to watch "King of Queens" for in-flight entertainment, my mom would always comment on how unrealistic it is for Kevin James, an overweight UPS worker, to be married to Leah Remini.* This got me thinking about who would be the least believable couples in movies and television based on attractiveness, career success, etc. (all the superficial things people look at when comparing people in a relationship). Who would you say are the most unrealistic matches? —JordanUnrealistic pairings, apparently, are not uncommon, as most of the thirteen A.V. Club writers who responded came up with several different examples each. The glaring pattern one notices reading their responses is that the vast majority of the "unrealistic matches" pair a gorgeous, hot young woman with a less-than-handsome and/or far-too-old man. The rare exceptions to this featured two attractive people who didn't seem to fit together due to either lack of chemistry or clashing character personalities (I saw three such examples on the list: Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, Amy Poehler and Adam Scott, Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey).
Why are there so many more examples of hot women paired with not-so-hot men than the other way around? There are likely many reasons, but two come to mind at the moment:
1. Wish fulfillment and male predominance. Most TV and movie writers (and producers, and studio execs) are men, so it makes sense for them to write themselves a bit of wish fulfillment and pair an ordinary-looking guy like themselves with a gorgeous actress (a serial example of this is Woody Allen). Most star comedians are also men, so it makes sense for their producers to ensure that even if their star isn't eye candy, their romantic lead is (e.g. "King of Queens"). That point about comedians has a counter example, however, as unlike Kevin James, Jim Belushi, Mark Addy, or Ray Romano, Roseanne was not paired with a hotter mate but with John Goodman (not that I criticize that decision--just pointing out the difference).
If that's not enough, it's a well-known fact that the majority of TV and movies are primarily marketed toward men, who are apparently pickier and less tolerant of media perceived as being "for women" than women are of media perceived as being "for men". This means that it's not just male writers and producers writing their own wish fulfillment, it's show creators creating wish fulfillment for their primary target audience.
2. Overall lower tolerance for unattractive women than unattractive men. Studies have shown (I don't have any sources to cite...this is just what I remember learning in college classes) that in determining how attractive a member of the opposite sex is, men place a higher value on appearance than women do, while women more highly value the ability to provide (i.e. earn money). This may make sense from an evolutionary standpoint (man needs woman who is young and fertile, woman needs man who can protect and provide for her and her children), but it is interesting to see how such a primitive instinct may contribute to what we see on screen. Not only do men have a higher preference for beauty in their mates, but they have a higher preference for beauty in women they see on screen, particularly in the romantic pairings that they see in those media. There is not an obviously intuitive connection between the two. On the flip side, I don't see how women can go about demanding that their actors be better able to provide for their families--would this be demanded of the characters (that's the writer's domain) or the actors themselves (not something evident on screen)? Thus actors are relieved of any corresponding unequal expectations when it comes to casting.
Perhaps this all ties into the generalization that men can make it in show business if they're talented, while women can make it if they're beautiful and talented. I suppose some women find success simply by being beautiful, but eventually people start to catch on (e.g. Megan Fox). There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but it's enough to be a rule...
Anyway, this is getting into deeper, more complicated issues than I intended to with this post. What I really want to know is, since the A.V. Club failed to come up with any, can you think of any examples of unrealistic screen couples in which the man is blatantly younger or more gorgeous than the woman?
The example I can think of is Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves in Something's Gotta Give; she's 18 years his senior. Of course, (spoiler alert) she ends up with Jack Nicholson in the end, who is 9 years her senior. A much more acceptable pairing, no?
* It's an interesting example, because I remember seeing an ad for that show based entirely on this point. The promo went something like, "How did THIS guy [shot of Kevin James looking fat and lazy on the couch] score THIS girl [shot of Leah Remini looking hot]? Find out on 'The King of Queens'!"