Least likely screen couples
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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
Someone’s going to say it, so I might as well get it out of the way early: Woody Allen and everybody. His habit as a writer-director of casting himself opposite younger, more attractive women rapidly went from strained to ridiculous when he stopped working with Diane Keaton and started giving himself romantic interests like Mira Sorvino (in Mighty Aphrodite) and Julia Roberts (in Everyone Says I Love You). His marriage to a woman 34 years younger than him didn’t make his movie conquests seem any less unlikely; truth is always stranger than fiction. That aside, I had a particularly hard time buying Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei as a couple in Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. It’s almost as though the graphic sex scene that opens the movie is specifically challenging viewers in that regard. Ditto Clint Eastwood and the much-younger Wanda De Jesús in Blood Work, source of one of the least-sexy cinematic sex scenes of all time.
By the time of My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts had developed into one of the most stylish, sophisticated romantic comedians since the screwball era. But during the first half of the ’90s, she acted as if she thought overnight stardom was something she won in a lottery managed by Shirley Jackson. In movie after movie, she seemed shaky, skittish, brittle, and as permanently locked into little-girlhood as Winona Ryder. The weird thing was, in an industry overpopulated with professional overage little boys, Hollywood kept pairing her with the few leading men at its disposal who were categorically, unapologetically, grown men—smooth operators like Denzel Washington, and brash come-on artists like John Malkovich. The resulting movies often came out of the editing room looking as if they’d been desexualized so as not to inspire a visit from Child Services. The worst of them was I Love Trouble, her team-up with Nick Nolte, 25 years her senior and a veteran of battles in the movie sex wars with such seasoned combatants as Susan Sarandon and Joanna Cassidy. He looks like he’s baby-sitting. She looks as if she’s deep inside her own head, trying to find a happy place.
Still, nobody, not even Woody Allen, deserves to own a piece of this category like Eric Schaeffer. In the first thrilling phase of his career as a writer-producer-director-star, the charmless, potato-faced, charisma-starved Schaeffer managed to concoct a TV series where he put the moves on Portia de Rossi (Too Something), a movie where he dumped Elle McPherson for Sarah Jessica Parker (If Lucy Fell), and another movie (Fall), which he wrote while working as a cab driver, about a fabulously rich, married supermodel who becomes sexually and romantically obsessed with a great writer-turned-cab-driver, played by our boy. Though he still makes movies whenever he can, Schaeffer has since become best known for his blog, which bears the self-explanatory title “I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single.”
Extensive spoilers for Another Earth ahead: Even though the movie is about two people who end up coupling after being brought together by extreme circumstances, and even given its fantasy premise, nothing about watching Brit Marling and William Mapother wind up together, however briefly, hinted at believability. After drunkenly totaling Mapother’s car and killing his pregnant wife and child, Marling decides to pay penance by posing as a roving house cleaner who just happened to be sent by an agency, blind, to his house to clean it. Uh-huh. And then she lifts him out of his funk with her mumbly charm. Yep. Soon they’re growing attached, but he can’t understand why she isn’t cashing his $70 checks. Suuuuure. On it goes, every new twist foreordained by the laws of screenwriting, and the stiff acting and directing don’t help at all. The premise that there are two parallel earths (why not infinite ones, à la DC Comics circa 1985-86?) is plausible by comparison.
Hollywood conventions being what they are, mismatched onscreen couples aren’t exactly rare—do I even need to talk about Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up? But Anand Tucker’s 2005 drama Shopgirl (an adaptation of Steve Martin’s novella) really stands out from the pack for offering its heroine not one but two extremely lackluster love interests; it plays like a nightmarish version of The Bachelorette. Claire Danes is a lonely, depressive glove saleswoman at Saks Fifth Avenue. After a fumbling encounter with Jeremy, an annoying, broke graphic artist (Jason Schwartzman, of course) who suggests using a plastic bag in lieu of a condom, she embarks on an affair with Steve Martin, playing a glum, vaguely creepy logician. I dare you not to cringe at the scene where Martin returns to his bedroom to find Danes, lying naked and facedown on his bed, offering herself up to him like a plate of cold cuts. But what’s even worse is that it’s the hapless Schwartzman who, having read a few self-help books, ultimately wins her heart. Because that’s all it takes, guys! Here’s the gross love scene.
It isn’t really Jodie Foster or Matthew McConaughey’s fault that Contact requires them to be a couple—mostly to perform some expository/rudimentary God-vs.-science dialogue, which certainly puts a chill on any potential romantic sparks. (As far as “Here, lean in closer” banter goes, “Occam’s razor, ever heard of it?” isn’t up to snuff.) But the problems go further: Foster is a terrific actress, but she isn’t really comfortable with getting cuddly onscreen. (One of the few other attempts came in Anna And The King, where she had to warm up to Chow Yun-Fat while he struggled with his terrible English dialogue, which makes equally little sense chemistry-wise.) McConaughey can be a lot of fun, but he too doesn’t seem terribly plausible as an earnest man of religion. As delivered, their conversations hardly convey the friction of opposites attracting: In the course of the simple exchange “Wow. You look beautiful, Ellie.” “So do you,” Foster manages to sigh (or just nervously exhale) four times. She was better off with the aliens.
While beer and Just For Men commercials are pantheons of unlikely coupling, there’s a newish Klondike Bar commercial that I find especially hard to believe. That company’s old slogan is “What would you do for a Klondike Bar,” and in this commercial, the answer is apparently “Listen to my wife talk for five seconds.” After maybe one sentence about paint colors, the man is rewarded with two sexy models and a new mint-chocolate-chip frozen dessert, much to his delight and his wife’s dismay. I know it’s old hat to complain about sexist commercials, but for me, this one’s incredibly grating. If I were that wife, not only would I not have made it this far with this dude, but this sudden show of hatred toward me and my interests would result in a swift kick to the nuts. It’s hard enough to not kick my TV every time it’s on.
While Kevin James and Leah Remini seem to be the prototype for the hot suffering wife/fat, stupid, selfish husband stereotype that permeated TV from the late ’90s until the late ’00s, the “patient zero” of that trend was more likely the Ray Romano/Patricia Heaton combo on Everybody Loves Raymond. But in most of those pairings, you could see why the characters might have gotten together: on Raymond, Debra was just as neurotic as Ray, just meaner about it, and like the pair on King Of Queens, the characters played by Mark Addy and Jami Gertz on Still Standing had enough similar blue-collar rough edges that made them fit together, at least in theory. But there was no explanation for the pairing of Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith on According To Jim. Firstly, their 13-year age difference is evident on the show, with Belushi’s wrinkled, hangdog looks completely not making sense next to the “fresh-faced-even-at-40” Thorne-Smith. But the characters didn’t make any sense either; Belushi seemed to be an insensitive lout who was constantly trying to show that he wasn’t a caring husband and father, and Thorne-Smith just seemed to be playing that ever-patient, eye-rolling, put-upon wife who gives real husbands and wives the skin-crawlies. There was no edge to her, no flaw, no reason to wonder what in these characters’ backstory made them get together and get married. Then again, the show ran for eight seasons, so obviously people didn’t give as much of a shit as I did about why these two were together.
In my mind, a mismatched onscreen couple careens from endearingly unconventional to smug fantasy when their gap in attractiveness goes unacknowledged by the characters themselves. Albert Brooks is a good example of someone whose cinematic alter-egos generally thrive on a sense of inferiority about their relationships, to the point where his strongest female bond arguably developed with Debbie Reynolds’ titular matriarch in Mother. On the flipside, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David spent the better part of a decade, and the ensuing 13 years in syndication, taunting us by way of Jerry and George’s wish-fulfillment trysts with assorted bombshells like Courteney Cox, Kristin Davis, Michelle Forbes, Lida Edelstein, Lauren Graham, Debra Messing, Amanda Peet, Denise Richards, and Anna Gunn. In Seinfeld’s most pronounced breach of romantic-casting believability, George even managed to woo Marisa Tomei while she was playing herself. (Although, satisfyingly, he managed to bungle that one.) At least we can take solace in the irony that after Teri Hatcher proclaimed her breasts to be real and fled Jerry’s embrace in “The Implant,” she soon found comfort in the arms of none other than Jerry’s lifelong hero, Superman, on Lois & Clark.
I’m more likely to be distracted by a disparity in personalities than a disparity in attractiveness, though when both are in play, it’s even worse. For instance, while I don’t see a lot of real-life pairings that look like, say, Kevin James and Rosario Dawson in Zookeeper, I’d be more inclined to buy them as a couple if James wasn’t playing such a passive schlub. (Sorry to try to find logic in Zookeeper. It’s been a long summer.)
This is a bit of a tough one for me, because heaven knows all kinds of people get together for all kinds of reasons. The pairing of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl is the ultimate mismatched couple in a lot of people’s minds, for example, but I have a friend who thinks even in schlubby, unemployed mode, Rogen would be a real catch. So I’m going to go with Rosario Dawson and Brian O’Halloran in Clerks 2. Part of Clerks’ grubby appeal came from the fact that its leads look like normal people. O’Halloran in particular looked and acted the everyman, so it seemed more than a little ridiculous when Clerks 2 posited him as a convincing love interest for Dawson, one of the most beautiful women in the world, and someone who looks like a normal person only in some dazzling utopia where everyone is beautiful and fascinating. Kevin Smith seems to realize that, but that didn’t keep him from pairing the two all the same, and giving the schlubs of the world way, way, way too much hope.
I realize it’s really just one problem on a laundry list of tactical errors committed within Star Wars: Episodes II and III, but my God, could there possibly have been less chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen? I probably should’ve seen it coming after Episode I, when it was evident that Portman was going to be turning in a fairly robotic performance in the role of Padme, but there was such an absence of romantic spark when she and Christiansen finally had the chance to play against each other that… Well, truthfully, I think my first reaction was to try to convince myself that the romantic dynamic wasn’t all that strong between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy, so this was about par for the course. That argument, however, only holds water until you go back and rewatch the scene where Leia frees Han from his carbonite prison. I haven’t had the stomach to re-watch Episodes II and III in quite awhile (though I’ll be doing so as soon as they hit Blu-ray), but at the moment, I can’t think back to a single moment in either film where I could suspend disbelief enough to accept that they’d really have been a couple, let alone that they’d help keep the Jedi legacy alive via their offspring.
I have a hard time buying Amy Poehler and Adam Scott as a couple in Parks And Recreation, for a variety of reasons. First, Poehler’s character is so goofy, endearing, and sincere that she almost comes off as asexual. When she’s paired with a character who’s similar to her, I believe it more, which was why I did buy her and Louis C.K. as a couple, but I guess his character isn’t coming back. It took some time before the show started writing Scott as funny and more than just the slightly frowny straight man, so it feels strange suddenly seeing him as a love interest: The storyline that got them together felt forced to me. Physically, I don’t see them meshing either: Poehler is a petite woman, yet Scott is practically more petite. That isn’t to say that petite people can’t get down with each other, but for some reason, I think Knope needs to be with a guy who emphasizes what a little dynamo she is. It’s also possible I just can’t get past Scott being with a funny lady other than Lizzy Caplan on Party Down.
There are many things in the original Transformers for this nerd to gawk at: seeing Optimus Prime come to life, watching Michael Bay conduct his destructive choreography, seeing John Turturro take a big payday in order to be able to do the kind of films he really wants to do instead. But nothing was odder in that film that seeing Megan Fox as a potential romantic companion for Shia LaBeouf. First of all, anyone with the last name “Witwicky” should be automatically excluded from having a chance with someone like Fox’s character. Perhaps their eventual romance can be explained by her character’s fetish for people who run around screaming “Nononononono!” every five minutes. But let’s face it: She isn’t there as a companion to LaBeouf so much as she’s a fetishistic object for those watching her, whether they’re in the cinema or behind the camera. Believing in the veracity of their relationship is secondary to her obsessively filmed presence onscreen.