Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Least believable screen couples

The staff at A.V. Club recently offered their answers to this question:
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? —Jordan
Unrealistic 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?

Anyone else?

* 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'!"


Angie said...

Jen and I have talked about this before, but the men and women listed kind of confuse me. I think Hayden Christensen is pretty damn hot in Star Wars and so are the other guys.

I personally look towards appearance and personality when I deem someone "hott." I have much more of a guys mind than a girls mind. Than again, I think people like James Gandolfini was very hott in The Sopranos and he's one of those odd couples where the "heavy, ugly" guys gets the "hott woman" which is lame, 'cause he's quite hott if you ask me.

Like I said, I think like guys more than I think like girls, so when I'm watching a movie - yeah, I'd rather see a hott girl. But my opinion of a hott girl is different, as everyone's is. Take Uma Thurman from Kill Bill. I think she is INSANELY hott. Not many people do. SHE doesn't even think she is that hott.

...Am I rambling? I am. Well, I think hottness factor depends on the person - their appearance, their attitude, etc. and I think everyone has a different opinion.

Sorry for writing a book in your comments. ;)

Eleni said...

No worries, I like long comments :)

In real life, people have a range of traits on which they judge a person's attractiveness, so it makes sense for this to cross into what they want to see in attractive movie stars. But appearance is something that can't be learned, acted, or written, so it's kind of the most restrictive when it comes to casting.

As the person posing the original question recognized, these judgments here are based on very superficial traits--and almost all the A.V. Club people looked at appearance. Yes, people can have hot personalities, but consider a sort of "yearbook test": if you were browsing someone's yearbook, would that person catch your eye as being attractive? Everyone has personal preferences, but there are still some overarching standards of beauty in societies.

Hayden Christensen is hot--the person who used him in Star Wars as an example just thought there was something lacking in his chemistry with Natalie Portman, thus making their pairing seem unbelievable. You might have gotten that, but I wasn't sure ;)

Sebastian Anthony said...

The Graduate!

(The whole older-woman-younger-guy thing is quite a common theme, IMO...)

Sebastian Anthony said...

(But yes, the older woman is usually pretty at least.)

Eleni said...

Right, that's a good example. I think relationships with the woman as the much older one of the pair are depicted differently, though. The "cougar" idea becomes a main focus of the relationship. In contrast, audiences are supposed to see Julia Roberts with Richard Gere, 18 years her senior, as just a normal romance (or, as one of the A.V. Club writers pointed out, Julia Roberts at 26 with Nick Nolte at 53...twice her age...ew). This may be getting into a whole different issue, though.

Vanessita said...

I watched only a couple of episodes of Chuck, and it seemed absurd that Yvonne Strahovski would, in real life, reject a super hot guy (don't know his name), a secret agent who was hitting on her, because of Chuck (though I've seen afterwards that Chuck's actor, with a decent haircut, can be goodlooking too, but on the series he's a nerd, has a non-glamorous job, etc).

I admit we women think more with our hearts than with our hormones, I've seen many an odd couple of pretty girls with not so handsome guys who had a silvertongue or were really good guys. But an ugly poor girl with a handsome guy, I don't believe I've ever seen that...

Eleni said...

That super hot agent was Bryce Larkin, played by Matt Bomer who is now a star on White Collar, and he is one of the most gorgeous guys on TV now. I'm kind of a fan, haha... Chuck is also pretty cute, and while he doesn't have a good job, he has a lot of potential, so I can understand her attraction.

I just remembered the reality TV show Beauty and the Geek, which paired beautiful but bimbo girls with nerdy, really socially awkward and mostly unattractive guys. I don't think that show could have worked if it were the other way around, because people just don't want to see ugly, awkward girls with hunks. I think one season they had one couple that was a beautiful guy and geeky girl, but it was only one of many couples so there was still lots of female eye candy for the male gaze. Oh well.