Valentine’s Day is upon us, so it’s time to grit your teeth, load up your Netflix queue, and sit through a romance or two. Don’t get us wrong—they’re not all terrible, and some offer some very good advice. But too many hinge on hard-to-swallow coincidences, dated gender stereotypes, and insufferable cutesiness. What’s worse, even the good ones often ask us to buy a “happy ending” that puts together a couple who we all know isn’t going to last five minutes past the credits. After the jump, our votes for the movie couples least likely to actually make it — contrary to what the films that tell their stories insist. Be warned: minor spoilers are ahead.
Melvin and Carol, As Good as It Gets
James L. Brooks’s 1997 comedy/drama gave us one of the most problematic movie couples in recent memory: a socially inept, obsessive-compulsive novelist and a single mother who is like one big, exposed nerve. The fact that they weren’t compatible, that Melvin seemed equipped only to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong moment, is part of what gives the picture its atypical tension; it’s also why the halfhearted happy ending that puts them together feels so phony and false, negating everything we actually think and feel about the couple at the picture’s center. “Melvin is not a man ever destined to find lasting happiness,” noted Roger Ebert, “and the movie’s happy ending feels like a blackout, seconds before more unhappiness begins.”
Ben and Alison, Knocked Up
We’re not going to reopen the old debate over whether the obvious disparity in their conventional physical attractiveness rendered Ben and Alison an unbelievable couple — a debate that is sort of offensive to all of us who were lucky enough to land partners who rather trump us, looks-wise. It happens, is the point. The credibility issue in Knocked Up (a film that we love in spite of its lapses) is about their long-term viability. What, we’re supposed to believe that because Ben finally got around to reading the baby books, and got a job, and put up an Eternal Sunshine poster in his spare bedroom, that somehow means he and Alison have something in common besides their spawn? Because we still don’t see it.
Andie and Blaine, Pretty in Pink
A generation of wacky outcasts were permanently scarred by the ending of the John Hughes-written, Howard Deutch-directed 1986 rom-com Pretty in Pink, in which Molly Ringwald’s Andie is given the choice between handsome rich preppie Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) and charming, funny Otis Redding fan Duckie (Jon Cryer) — and she picks the Ken doll. We’ve got a feeling it’s a choice she’d come to regret as much as her creators did (Hughes and Deutch collaborated the next year on Some Kind of Wonderful, which is basically a sex-changed remake of Pink, but with the proper outcome).
Lelaina and Troy, Reality Bites
We’ve got a feeling this is one that has something to do with age — i.e., you go back and watch Reality Bites these days and can’t believe that Lelaina ends up with Troy, when she’s so obviously a better fit with Michael (Ben Stiller). Oh, sure, Michael wears a suit and works for cable television, and okay, he lets them sculpt her navel-gazing “documentary” into Real World-style trash. This is the turning point that dooms Michael in here eyes, but let’s face it: Troy does far worse, and gets away with it because he’s got that soulful goateed “truth teller” thing happening. When Lelaina outgrows her taste for that, Troy’s gone like last week’s garbage.
Ben and Elaine, The Graduate
Credit where due: the closing shots of The Graduate acknowledge the somewhat sticky and perhaps less-than-arbitrarily-happy nature of the film’s ending, as Benjamin and Elaine, who have just fled her wedding, exchange nervous looks in the back seat of that bus and realize what they’ve done. We give them a year and a half, tops. If Ben had his head on straight, he’d have stuck with that sexy older lady.
Rob and Laura, High Fidelity
Like The Graduate, part of what’s great about the closing scenes of High Fidelity is their subtle acknowledgment of the fact that maybe, just maybe, these two kids aren’t going to make it. Coming right out and saying it is a bit of a bummer, considering how much of the movie we’ve spent waiting for the two of them to get back together, but there is something unsettling about the way Rob responds to that cute music writer (Natasha Gregson Wagner — and BTW, where the hell did she go?) and sets about making her a tape. Our skepticism about their future is apparently shared by Nick Hornby, who wrote the book the film is based on (when asked at a screening if they’d make it, “he laughed and said he had his doubts”). But what’s great about High Fidelity, unlike most of its rom-com brethren, is that it’s actually about much more than whether the two of them end up together, or for how long.
Edward and Vivian, Pretty Woman
Granted, it’s kind of an easy target, but the conclusion of Garry Marshall’s blockbuster 1990 comedy has always seemed about as credible as the fairy tales it’s emulating. Sure, the two of them look great together, have good sex, and apparently make a fine shopping team. But that’s about all these two have in common, and if you think a one-percenter like Edward only has one sleazy colleague who’d play the whore card with Vivian, we’ve got a Carol Channing wig to sell you.
Sam and Annie, Sleepless in Seattle
There’s a whole subset of romantic comedies that are centered on the gimmick of taking two hours to merely put the couple together; Sleepless in Seattle was far and away the most commercially successful, but you can also see the trope at work in The Night We Never Met, Next Stop Wonderland, and others. Putting them together for the first time at the end of the picture allows the filmmakers to dodge some pretty basic questions: what if they actually don’t hit it off? What if they don’t have anything in common? What if they’re sexually incompatible? And in the case of Sleepless, what if Annie quickly realizes what an obnoxious brat Sam’s kid is?
Ariel and Eric, The Little Mermaid
Look, we know a fairy tale’s a fairy tale and all, but the fact of the matter is, couples who fall in love when one of them doesn’t have the power of speech don’t exactly have a sky-high success rate. It says something about their priorities, understand; the kind of guy who’ll go for a girl based (quite literally) solely on her appearance probably won’t reveal himself to be the best listener further down the line. And it’s not like Ariel investigated Eric much, personality-wise, before giving away her voice to land him. We see a couple months of surface happiness before devolving into a for-show marriage, full of scandals and adultery.
Isaac and Tracy, Manhattan
Woody Allen’s 1979 masterpiece deserves points for its honest handling of Isaac and Mary’s relationship; it was a refuge for a couple of slightly damaged souls, a way station but not a destination. But we’re not wild about the film’s conclusion that Isaac would find true happiness with his way-younger girlfriend Tracy, either. I mean, seriously, what kind of a creepy future would a guy like Woody Allen have with a teenager?
Those are the “happily ever after”s that we don’t buy; what are yours? Let us know in the comments!