This week’s question comes to us from editor Sean O’Neal:
What couple from a romantic comedy shouldn’t have ended up together?
My head hurts with all the mental gymnastics I do when I watch my favorite Woody Allen films, with Manhattan taking the top spot of “this relationship is fucked up but dammit do I love this movie.” Even with my complicated but fervent love for peak Woody Allen, his character Isaac should not have ended up with Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). And it’s not just because she’s 17. He’s a neurotic asshole who dumps her, then runs back after realizing she’s great. She is great—so great she should never take him back in that final scene. It can be argued that they don’t actually end up together, as she carries through with her plans to study acting in London, but she does take him back and implies they can have a future together. In my imagining, Tracy goes to London and finds someone much better than Isaac. And Isaac ends up alone.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) from Silver Linings Playbook found each other at the nadir of their lives. He’s suffering from bipolar disorder and she from depression and undiagnosed sexual addiction. But dang it if those two can’t find each other (and true love!) through the fog of medication and coping mechanisms. While it is a refreshing to see the emotional pathology displayed by rom-com protagonists as an integral part of the story as opposed to wildly unstable but consequence-free quirk, it’s just really hard to imagine these two making it last. The film received some criticism for treating a romantic relationship as a cure for mental health issues that take years of dedicated effort to overcome, although given that the genre has stories where love can bring dead partners back to life, or at the very least, one last chance to make sweet pottery wheel love with their spirits, it’s certainly not the most absurd transgression. But given the emotional state of these two characters, it’s going to take more than a fantastic dance routine to keep Pat and Tiffany together.
I greatly enjoy most of Four Weddings And A Funeral, but it never fails to bug me how little Andie MacDowell’s flat and lifeless Carrie seems to fit with Hugh Grant’s charming Charles at the end of the movie. Based on a few nights together, one coffee, and one tearful conversation, Charles is convinced that Carrie, who’s obviously fickle (why does she get married to someone else anyway?), is the woman he wants to spend his life with, even quoting the sacred Partridge Family to make his point. It rankles even more because the perfect partner who’s already in love with him is right there: the engaging and lovely Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona. I hate the ending even before MacDowell delivers one of the worst line readings in the history of modern cinema (“Is it still raining, I hadn’t noticed”), but it certainly doesn’t help. Every time I see that Four Weddings ending, I never buy it.
I have to state the obvious answer to this question. I love Nora Ephron with all my heart so it pains me to say it, but the ending of Sleepless In Seattle feels unearned. I’m not saying Tom Hanks’ widower Sam Baldwin and Meg Ryan’s journalist Annie Reed should never be together, but the perfectly happy ending on top of the Empire State Building seems abrupt. Let’s make this perfectly clear: These people do not know each other, and, on top of that, Annie’s done some pretty darn unethical and, frankly, creepy things in the name of meeting Sam over the course of the movie. I’m largely willing to suspend disbelief in the name of romance, but Sleepless In Seattle is a bridge too far, even for me. (I’ll still watch it every time it’s on, goddammit.)
“Two-thirds sour, one-third sweet” is how I like to describe a particular reoccurring dynamic in romantic comedies, one that goes all the way back to the granddaddy of the genre, It Happened One Night. Basically, the lovers-to-be spend most of their screen time together annoying the living hell out of each other, before realizing, somewhere in the final stretch, “Oh crap, we actually love each other, don’t we?” I’ve rolled with that surprise-infatuation scenario more times than I can count, but I draw the line at the putrid How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Kate Hudson plays Andie, a magazine columnist whose latest immersion-journalism stunt entails snagging some random beau, then getting him to dump her within 10 days, mostly by conforming her behavior to a deeply sexist list of “classic mistakes women make.” Andie ends up performing this horrifying social experiment on Benjamin (Matthew McConaughey, pre-McConaissance), a cocky advertising bro who—unbeknown to her—has just made a bet that he can make any woman fall in love with him within (you guessed it) 10 days. If you can somehow set aside the improbability of these two looking past the sociopathic manipulation of their courtship to stay together (“Oh, we’ve both been lying through our teeth this entire time and don’t even really know each other at all? That’s fine, let’s give this a real go!”), you still have to root for two horrible, conniving people straight out of a Neil LaBute play living happily ever after together. There’s no sweetness that can balance that much sour.
As much as it pains me to side with the embezzling, judgmental John Mahoneys of the world, I’ve just never bought that there’s a happy ending in store for Say Anything…’s Lloyd and Diane. Sure, they’re great in the moment—there’s literally no better time in life for a grand romantic gesture than the end of high school, a.k.a. the teenage apocalypse—but how does this relationship end? She’s busy studying in England, while he slowly gets the crap kicked out of his “no selling, buying, or processing” philosophy. The film posits that “love is enough”; anybody who’s found themselves in a 3 a.m. argument about budgeting with their significant other knows that, frequently, it’s not. Besides, I’ve always been a big fan of the theory that Cusack’s hitman character from Grosse Pointe Blank is Lloyd all grown up, and that only works if the world comes crashing down hard on Lloyd and Diane’s romantic naiveté.
My days of watching romantic comedies on the regular subsided along with my frequent attendance at sleepovers, so I admittedly don’t have a great depth of knowledge of the past 15 years or so of rom-com history to draw from. That being said, Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen’s characters should not have not gotten together at the end of Knocked Up. All the feminist rants I would love to go on about the movie’s politics surrounding “smishmortion” aside, this is a relationship based on suffering through incompatibilities for the sake of their child. And not only is it going to make them miserable—especially if Seth Rogen’s character doesn’t pull his weight around the house—but it’s going to give their kid a complex, too. That’s the “mommy, daddy, how did you meet?” story from hell right there.
Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping not only shouldn’t end up together, Bullock’s character should be in intensive therapy, as it’s clear early on that her real true love is pathological deception. Bullock plays a lonely CTA worker who decides to take the opportunity of a strange man being mugged and knocked into a coma to pretend she’s his fiancé. It’s one of those high-concept ideas that is played as gently and sweetly as possible for laughs, but which, by any rational standard, is sociopathic and borderline criminal behavior. In the middle of this charade, she falls in love with the brother of her knight in unconscious armor, proving there’s no emotional whiplash too unsettling for her to justify it with a smile and a pratfall. After confessing all her many misdeeds, she ends up being rewarded at some future unspecified date with a wedding proposal from Pullman. Great—perhaps these two can swindle retirees out of their pensions next, maybe by posing as the children of Alzheimer’s-stricken seniors?