The Actors With the Worst On-Screen Love Lives


One of our favorite movies of the year, Sarah Polley’s heartbreaking Take This Waltz, hits theaters this Friday (but, heads up, you can watch it on demand right effing now, and should). In it, Michelle Williams plays a writer who jeopardizes her seemingly happy marriage when she falls for the handsome fellow down the street. Thinking back on the movie, we couldn’t help but muse that Williams seems an actress particularly unlucky in love on screen; in fact, she’s one of many actors who seem to have made a specialty of playing characters who are perpetually getting screwed, romantically speaking. After the jump, we take a look at the unlucky cinematic love lives of Williams and nine of her contemporaries (to keep it simple, we stuck with modern actors). Some spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk, etc.; agree, disagree, and add your own nominees in the comments.

Michelle Williams HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Messy, painful divorce (Blue Valentine); Adulterous longing (Take this Waltz); Widowed literally while committing adultery (Incendiary); Cheated on by husband, with another man (Brokeback Mountain); Murdered (Shutter Island); Dated James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek). SCORE: 10/10. Ms. Williams is our modern Bette Davis or Joan Crawford; she suffers on-screen for our romantic sins.

Ryan Gosling HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Messy, painful divorce (Blue Valentine); Object of affection commits suicide (The Ides of March); Murders wife (All Good Things); Kept away from his true love (The Notebook); Scares off the woman he loves by stomping in a guy’s head (Drive); Romances a blow-up doll (Lars and the Real Girl). SCORE: 5/10. Gosling can’t match his Blue Valentine co-star in quantity nor quality of heartbreaks; sure, there’s some bummers in there, but also a couple that turn out pretty well for the handsome Mr. Gosling.

Kate Winslet HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Brutally unhappy marriage (Revolutionary Road); Brutally unhappy common-law marriage (Jude); Casually unhappy marriage (Carnage); Love of her life dies when their giant boat sinks (Titanic); Erases painful relationship from her memory (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Affairs with married men (Romance & Cigarettes, Little Children); Suicide (Hamlet, The Reader); Sex with Harvey Keitel (Holy Smoke). SCORE: 10/10. The only modern-day ingénue who gives Ms. Williams a run for her money, lousy-movie-relationship-wise.

Leonardo DiCaprio HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Brutally unhappy marriage (Revolutionary Road); Dies when the love of his life won’t make some room on her piece of wood after their giant boat sinks (Titanic); Forced to abandon Amy Adams (Catch Me if You Can); Closeted (J. Edgar); Suicide (Romeo + Juliet); Dead wives (Shutter Island, Inception). SCORE: 7/10. Leo can’t match his Revolutionary Road/Titanic co-star Kate, but there is a lot of death-related heartbreak going on there.

Nicole Kidman HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Falls for 10-year-old boy who she thinks is her dead husband, reincarnated (Birth); Stalked by ex-husband (The Human Stain); Troubled marriage (Eyes Wide Shut, Trespass); Cheats on husband with teenager, who kills husband (To Die For); True love goes to fight the Civil War (Cold Mountain); Widowed (My Life); Death (Moulin Rouge!). SCORE: 6/10. Kidman is one of our foremost serious actresses, but her tragic roles are split rather evenly between those brought on by failed romance, and those resulting from depression, accidents, and rotten luck (The Hours, Rabbit Hole, Dogville, etc).

Taraji P. Henson HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Killed while retaliating for the perceived death of her would-be girlfriend (Smokin’ Aces); Affair with married man who tries to rape her niece (I Can Do Bad All By Myself); Unable to find a man who meets her standards (Think Like A Man). SCORE: 1/10. You know what’s really depressing? Trying to find a man or woman of color with a history of onscreen romantic heartbreak. Give it a shot.

Julianne Moore HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Affairs while married (Magnolia, The End of the Affair, The Kids are All Right); Gay husband, crush on gardener (Far from Heaven); Crush on gay friend (A Single Man); Troubled marriage (Trust the Man, Short Cuts, The Myth of Fingerprints, Chloe); Divorce (Crazy, Stupid, Love). SCORE: 7/10. Moore is one of the best criers in the business (see above for proof), and more often than not, she turns on the waterworks when her characters’ love lives go into the toilet.

Steve Carell HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Left by cheating wife (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World); Divorce (Crazy, Stupid, Love); Widower, in love with his brother’s girlfriend (Dan in Real Life); Driven to attempted suicide by a lover’s abandonment (Little Miss Sunshine); Forty-year-old virgin (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). SCORE: 4/10. Carell’s a relative newbie, and not the first person that leaps to mind here, since he’s a comic actor. But he’s been working a kind of Bill Murray-esque melancholy into his film work, and he wears it well.

Rachel McAdams HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Kept from her true love by terrible parents (The Notebook); Loses all memory of her husband in a car wreck (The Vow); Affair with married man (Married Life); Cheats on husband, who cheats on her while time traveling (Midnight in Paris); Married to another damn time traveler (The Time Traveler’s Wife). SCORE: 5/10. Plenty of heartbreak here, but almost all of it happily resolved by the final reel. (Hey, we already gave you a spoiler warning.)

Keira Knightley HEARTBREAK RUNDOWN: Catches best friend with crush object (Bend it Like Beckham); Pined for by husband’s best friend (Love, Actually); Lover is sent to prison because of her dumb little sister (Atonement); Affair with married shrink (A Dangerous Method); Husband cheats, she does too (The Duchess); Husband cheats, she almost does too (Last Night). SCORE: 6/10. She’s had plenty of love troubles on screen, but seldom seems as broken by them as some of the other actors on our list. Must be the accent.

That’s our top ten — what’s yours? Let us know in the comments.