Our favorite of this week’s new theatrical releases is Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Lorene Scafaria’s end-of-the-world comedy that deftly transcends what could have been a one-joke premise, turning instead unexpectedly poignant and moving. The key to that transition is the surprisingly effective romantic subplot between stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley — and yes, we were as skeptical as you when that element of the picture began to reveal itself. But this is one of those cases where seemingly mismatched stars pair up well on-screen. Others haven’t been quite so lucky. After the jump, we remember a few of the cinema’s less believable movie couples.
Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola, The Godfather Part III
The romance of first cousins Mary Coreleone and Vincent Mancini would have been tough to stomach had any actors played the roles; even with original choice Winona Ryder as Mary, there would have still been an oog-factor that director Francis Ford Coppola would’ve struggled to overcome. Ryder, of course, didn’t play the role — she dropped out at the last minute, and Coppola decided to cast his daughter Sofia in the role. So on top of all the weird incest stuff, we’ve also got a novice actor matched against the charisma machine that is Andy Garcia, though he seems visibly uncomfortable making out with the younger Coppola as her father watches off camera. The whole thing was a huge miscalculation, and one that ended up sinking an otherwise decent third installment of the Godfather saga.
Warren Beatty and Halle Berry, Bulworth
We’re Warren Beatty fans, as you might have noticed, and we maintain a fondness for Bulworth mainly because it was Mr. Beatty’s final effort as a writer/director/producer/star (to date). But it’s got its problems — chief among them the unfortunate romantic subplot between Beatty’s Senator Jay Billington Bulworth, who transforms himself into a rhyme-spitting populist, and Halle Berry’s Nina, the South Central homegirl he takes up with. We could do an entire post of unconvincing May-December romances (Hollywood just loves to pair its aging leading men with young hotties), but Beatty’s additional creative credits make this one feel like a particularly skeezy kind of wish fulfillment.
Mr. Matthau is a particular favorite of your film editor, a unique and inimitable comic personality who imbued every film he appeared in (be it comedy, drama, or action) with a hangdog authenticity and relaxed charm. But he’s not someone I want to think of as a sexual being, even for a moment — it’s like imagining your grandfather out cruising. And while House Calls and Hopscotch are two of my very favorite Matthau vehicles, there’s something just not right about his romantic adventures, which take center stage in House Calls and are part of the background of Hopscotch. Perhaps it is that his partner in both is Glenda Jackson, a wily and entertaining screen presence but a bit of an odd duck herself.
Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, The Happening
Look, the chemistry of its stars is the least of The Happening’s problems; this notorious turkey from the increasingly jinxed pen of M. Night Shyamalan boasts ridiculous dialogue, wildly overwrought set-ups, and the dopiest “twist” this side of Donald Kaufman’s The 3. But they are clearly acting in completely different films: Deschanel with her usual peppy romantic comedy zing, Wahlberg with a kind of painful sincerity that renders his serious scenes funnier than any Apatow set piece.
Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple, That Hagen Girl
Shirley Temple’s long-standing retirement wasn’t just caused by her maturity; she had also fallen into a pattern of less-than-stellar B-movies, and this 1947 melodrama may have been the worst (Reagan declared it the worst film of his career, which is no mean feat). To clarify: Temple was 18 when the film was made, so it’s not as bad as you think, but screenwriter Charles Hoffman (adapting Edith Kneipple Roberts’ novel) increases the gross-out factor of Reagan and Temple’s May-December romance tenfold. How? Because it comes at the conclusion of a story whose primary preoccupation is whether or not Temple is Reagan’s illegitimate daughter, as the gossip has it in their small town. Add in Temple’s inescapable little-girl factor and Reagan’s usual awkward, stiff performance, and you’ve got a romantic duo best forgotten.
Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone, Casino
Few people who saw Casino, however, would soon forget the image of Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone, making out on a couch before Pesci ever-so-nimbly shoves her head down into his crotch. Pesci plays a powerful mob enforcer in the film, and we get that power can be an aphrodisiac, but the duo are so aesthetically mismatched that their adulterous liaison is borderline comical; when he pulls that couch move, all credibility is out the window.
Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episodes II-III
Christensen and Portman make a far more believable couple, at least at first glance; in contrast to most of the rest of our list, they’re about the same age, and both are, by general consensus, attractive. It’s when they start talking that the pair-up comes undone. Christensen, at risk of putting too fine a point on it, can’t act; George Lucas can’t write; and Portman can’t bring herself to mouth Lucas’ atrocious dialogue with anything resembling commitment. Their “chemistry” is particularly painful in Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones, the most romantic of the prequels. As Roger Ebert noted in his two-star review: “Too much of the rest of the film is given over to a romance between Padme and Anakin in which they’re incapable of uttering anything other than the most basic and weary romantic clichés, while regarding each other as if love was something to be endured rather than cherished.” Moviegoers felt the same way about their romance; a 2007 online poll found them the worst onscreen couple in movie history.
Katherine Hepburn and Bob Hope, The Iron Petticoat
Hope and Hepburn had both seen better days by the time they arrived at this strained 1956 Ninotchka rip-off, in which (according to Harry and Michael Medved’s Son of Golden Turkey Awards) “Hepburn puts on a growlingly overdone Russian accent for her role as a man-hating Soviet air force captain” while “Hope impersonates a dashing, heroic American fly-boy who sweeps her off her feet during a whirlwind romance in London.” Critics at the time were equally unenthused, and it became the first Bob Hope film to lose money, perhaps due to the bad publicity generated by an open feud between Hope and legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht, who took his name off the film in protest of Hope’s changes to his script. After its original theatrical run, Hope only screened the film on two occasions (at the Museum of Modern Art and the American Film Institute) and it has (to date) never been released domestically on home video.
Lily Tomlin and John Travolta, Moment by Moment
Equally hard to come by is Moment by Moment, Jane Wagner’s 1978 film; it, too, has never made its way to VHS or DVD, and for good reason. This painfully earnest romantic drama pairs up Lily Tomlin and John Travolta, which is a bad idea for two reasons. First, as noted by the Medveds in Son of Golden Turkey Awards, the pair look eerily similar, less like lovers than siblings: “The same dark hair, unisex haircuts, long noses, and fleshy faces — when they appear together on screen in Moment by Moment, lounging in a hot tub, it appears to be a special effect, a split-screen trick like the TV twins on The Patty Duke Show.” And then there is the matter of Tomlin’s sexuality, which was (at the very least) an open secret in ’78 — writer/director Wagner, in fact, was (and is) Tomlin’s partner. Thus we have the additional believability impairment — which also sank Anne Heche’s 1998 match-up with Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights — of buying into a relationship where we’re pretty sure one (maybe both, if whispers are to believed) of the parties involved isn’t even into the gender of their romantic opposite.
Chyler Leigh and Christopher Khayman Lee, Kickboxing Academy
Tomlin and Travolta may have looked like brother and sister in their romantic scenes, but the makers of the 1997 martial arts comedy/drama did them one better: they cast real-life brother and sister Chyler Leigh and Christopher Khayman Lee as romantic opposites. Leigh, who would later appear as Janey Briggs in Not Another Teen Movie and as Dr. Lexie Grey on Grey’s Anatomy, made her film debut here, so maybe she just needed the break or was too young and naïve (15 at the time of shooting) to raise an objection when her blood relation was cast as her leading man. Either way, it made for some fun posts on the gossip sites when clips of their many more-than-familial liplocks turned up on YouTube during her run on Grey’s.
Those are our picks — what are yours? Which on-screen couples left you cold?