Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Weekend Roundtable: Least Believable Screen Couple

The new rom-com Long Shot would have us imagine the stunning Charlize Theron falling for schlubby Seth Rogen. That movie plays the mismatch for laughs, but it reminds us of other screen romances that were less than convincing.

David Krauss

Sandra Bullock and… a couple of guys. You’d think it would be a cinch for the queen of romantic comedy to create terrific chemistry with almost anyone, but as she began to age, the struggle to find a suitable on-screen mate for the perky, often adorable actress became an almost Herculean task. By the time she hit her mid-40s, Bullock began teaming herself with far younger male co-stars, and the result was a couple of uncomfortable pairings that would lend those innocuous rom-coms a creepy aftertaste.

Bullock is a dozen years older than the boyish-looking Ryan Reynolds, so her romance with him in 2009’s The Proposal feels like cradle robbing. Though the age difference fits the plot to a certain degree, their romance is devoid of sparks and often feels as forced and formulated as the story.

The same malaise afflicted Bullock when she hooked up with Bradley Cooper the very same year in the truly awful All About Steve. The ten-year age difference between the two stars is the least of this cringe-inducing comedy’s problems – though Cooper’s ruggedness did somewhat soften the gap. When it comes right down to the nitty-gritty of their ultimate coupling, it’s impossible to buy their mutual attraction. I have nothing against older women/younger men relationships (my mom is almost six years older than my dad), but let’s face it, if you can’t sufficiently stoke the flames of love with hunks like Reynolds and Cooper, then maybe you should stop making romantic comedies. And guess what? That’s exactly what Bullock did. Since 2009, she hasn’t made a single one.

Jason Gorber

If I pick Carol, will that break Film Twitter? Well, let’s go with what I rewatched a few weeks ago and suggest that the intimate connection meant to be drawn between Christian Bale and Katie Holmes is a mess in Batman Begins. Holmes is not much of a performer to begin with, and she’s not given a heck of a lot to work with in the movie, but you only need to look to her replacement Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight to see how the connection between childhood friends could be believably romantic enough to have broken Batman’s spirit.

Deirdre Crimmins

The least believable on-screen couple has to be Anakin and Padme in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. First of all, she knew him when he was a wee pod racer. Anyone who eventually ends up having a sexual relationship with someone they knew as a child, when they were not a child themselves, is not really someone to be admired or celebrated. Even beyond that icky factor, these two have zero chemistry together. George Lucas tried his hardest to make us believe that they were falling in love in Attack of the Clones, but there are not enough yards of flowy fabric in the entire universe to make that journey romantic. Both actors are wooden and stifled, and the whole situation just seems too convenient to be considered fateful. Lucas has never been a director to get good performances out of his actors, but his attempt at showing us romance just left me wishing he’d stick to less emotional fare.

Brian Hoss

I was struggling with this topic, as I got very focused on Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. But then, lo and behold, cable TV exhibited the hit My Cousin Vinny. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are great in the movie, but let’s just say that the potential pairing of Aunt May and Happy in Spider-Man is more believable.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived! Ginny Weasley: The Girl Who… Was There, Occasionally!

Who has any emotional investment in the Harry and Ginny as a couple? Heck, who has any emotional investment in Ginny, period? (Okay, maybe folks who read the books, which I admittedly have not.) Take a stab at describing what makes her unique beyond “Ron’s sister” or “Harry Potter fangirl.” And no, “played Quidditch” and “nice skin” don’t count.

She’s a non-entity for the bulk of the movies, with right at a half hour of screen time throughout the entire saga. Ginny’s most defining characteristic for a long while is her hero worship of Harry, which strikes me as unhealthy footing for a committed relationship. And you’d better believe that power imbalance as children carried over into their adult lives, or at least that’s the only reason I can think that Ginny would sign off on their first-born being named Albus Severus.

The turning point towards a coupling is Harry’s preposterously ill-timed jealousy when he finds out that Ginny – in whom he’d previously expressed no romantic interest whatsoever – is dating someone else. That’s not puppy love; that’s possessiveness! There’s no smoldering fire or whatever when Harry and Ginny are together. It’s boring in concept, and Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe’s complete and total lack of chemistry ensures that it’s even more boring in practice.

Josh Zyber

Audrey Hepburn was often paired with older male leads, such as Humphry Bogart in Sabrina or Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon. In most cases, the stars had enough chemistry to make the May-December age differences work. You’d hardly question that Cary Grant was 25 years older than Hepburn in Charade.

The 1957 Stanley Donen musical Funny Face, however, had a much harder time selling the romance between Hepburn and Fred Astaire, who was 30 years her senior and looked every minute of it. Although only 58 at the time, which hardly seems old at all anymore, Astaire’s frail and weathered features could be mistaken for 20 years older. This contrasted badly with Hepburn’s girlish beauty, which had the opposite effect and left her looking younger than her 28 years. Watching Hepburn swoon for Astaire feels like witnessing a young girl fall in love with her grandpa. It’s uncomfortable to watch.

Your Turn

What on-screen romances do you have trouble buying into, either due to casting or some other issue?


  1. njscorpio

    ‘Contact’ (1997)…I’m a big fan of Jodie Foster fan, as well as Matthew McConaughey, and Carl Sagan (and Robert Zemeckis!)…but that movie contains a scene where Foster and McConaughey kiss, and there is ZERO chemistry. It is painful to watch. I don’t swing that way, but hell, even I could muster up some chemistry with McConaughey!

    My runner up for the worst chemistry would be Roger Moore in ‘Live and Let Die’…it does NOT feel like he is comfortable on film kissing a woman of color.

    • njscorpio

      I realize I took this in the direction of “worst on screen chemistry” instead of “least believable couple”, but I feel one causes the other.

  2. photogdave

    Almost every romantic pairing of John Wayne was awkward but The Duke and Elizabeth Allen in Donovan’s Reef takes the cringe cake! The 22-year age difference is exacerbated by the fact that Wayne looks even older than his years at the time.
    It’s actually one of my favourite Sunday afternoon films but the romance is so faked and forced that it takes me right out of the movie at times.

    • David Krauss

      You’re right about Wayne. I’m always amazed that everyone thinks The Quiet Man is one of the most romantic movies of all time. It leaves me totally cold.

  3. Csm101

    I’m pretty sure I’ve stated this before, but I still feel the same. Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in Autumn in New York. Bleh!
    I agree with Jason for Batman Begins. Not only are they not a great paring, but all she does is be condescending to him the whole time no matter the choices he makes.

  4. EM

    Itʼs considered a classic, and thereʼs so much absolutely right about the flick, but I canʼt quite grok John Hustonʼs The Maltese Falcon because of the Humphrey Bogart–Mary Astor pairing, upon which a little too much of the movie turns. I never believe that Spade finds OʼShaughnessy (or whatever the dameʼs name is) anywhere nearly so compellingly attractive as the dialogue insists. Had Bacall been a tad older, she could have turned that relationship around. Oh, well, at least we have Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre, and Cook yukking it up.

    • David Krauss

      Agree about Bogart and Astor. Interestingly, the studio didn’t feel the same. Warner Bros paired them again the very next year (along with Sydney Greenstreet and director John Huston) in Across the Pacific, an underrated thriller that is worth checking out. I think Bogart and Astor actually have more chemistry in that film than they did in Maltese Falcon.

  5. Bolo

    ‘The Shape of Water’ – I just found it gross. They did not effectively build the connection between Sally Hawkins and the merman for me, so when their relationship turned sexual, I totally checked out of the movie. It was like a version of ‘Free Willy’ where the boy humps the whale partway through.

  6. Plissken99

    Not exactly the first most would think of, but Halloween 3: Season of the Witch immediately came to mind. Tom Atkins at one point hooks up his female costar, who was 24 years younger. Most blatant case of less than zero chemistry, yet the script demands that they have sex that comes to mind.

  7. gene9p

    Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give” The young handsome doctor and the elderly playwright who is supposed to be 56 but looks more like 66.

  8. Thulsadoom

    I’m gonna go with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. I like Emma Stone, but there was zero chemistry between her and Gosling in that movie, to make you believe or care about their romance.

    • David Krauss

      It’s interesting you say that about Stone and Gosling. I tend to agree about La La Land, but I felt they had fantastic chemistry in their first film together, Crazy Stupid Love. La La Land was their third movie together and maybe they were just bored with each other by that time. (They also didn’t click very well in Gangster Squad, a truly awful movie that neither of them should have made.)

      • Thulsadoom

        I must admit, I’ve not seen Crazy Stupid Love yet. I may have to give it a go. 😉 But I’ll also admit, I’ve never found Gosling convincing in anything. He’s one of those actors who, for me, only ever has one expression, which I think critics confuse as ‘deep and meaningful’ in everything he does. He’s basically a male Kristen Stewart… 😉

        • David Krauss

          Julian is right. Crazy Stupid Love is a fantastic movie. One of the best surprises in that genre in recent memory. You really should see it. Gosling is quite good in it and proves he has a nice flair for comedy.

          • I’ve been calling every male reproductive organ ‘schwanz’ ever since ‘Crazy Stupid Love’. Gosling kills it in this movie.

  9. Jon D

    Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo in “In the Line of Fire” always felt like a pervy grandpa hitting on his charge nurse at the retirement castle.

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