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Going the Distance: Top 10 Real-Life On-Screen Couples

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CHICAGO – The personal life of an entertainer shouldn’t be of any entertainment value, regardless of how celebrity gossip columns and the paparazzi would like to convince the general public otherwise. Who cares if two famous people have chemistry if it doesn’t show up onscreen?

Yet when a real-life couple stars in a film together, it’s nearly impossible to watch them without wondering how much truth is reflected in their cinematic relationship.

That’s exactly what many moviegoers will be contemplating when they watch Nanette Burstein’s new Apatow-influenced rom-com, “Going the Distance,” which pairs two stars whose on-again, off-again relationship has been heavily publicized. Whether Drew Barrymore and Justin Long have tangible, engaging chemistry remains to be seen and judged by audiences willing to by a ticket. Until then, here is my list of the top ten real life on-screen couples: the good, the bad and the ugly.

10. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Photo credit: Fox

“Ugly” certainly wouldn’t be the accurate description for this couple, who are perhaps the most famous in the media galaxy. At a time when larger-than-life movie stars are as rare as an original idea in Hollywood, Pitt and Jolie have somehow managed to sustain their global popularity and bankability. The hype surrounding their work in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” was overwhelming, to say the least, particularly because Pitt had reportedly fallen in love with Jolie on the set. Though Doug Liman’s action-comedy could hardly be considered a classic, it does feature two megawatt talents at the height of their sparkling charisma. “Brangelina” plays as a couple whose marriage is reignited once they discover each other’s secret identity: they are both assassins, hired by warring agencies. While the gags are heavily laced with dark humor, the film’s most violent sequence centers on the couple’s animalistic lovemaking. Sometimes unbridled passion can be the most satisfying special effect. It certainly satisfied audiences.

9. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez
Photo credit: Sony

Here’s perhaps the most enduring example of what happens when a real-life onscreen couple fails spectacularly, both personally and professionally. Martin Brest’s 2003 disaster “Gigli” may be the polar opposite of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” yet some moviegoers may claim that it’s more fun, since the film’s truly bizarre awfulness is more original and memorable than the predictable pleasures of “Smith.” The short-lived romance between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez garnered the usual media circus, resulting in the couple being dubbed the unholy name of “Bennifer” (though it’s certainly no worse than “Brangelina”). The debate over whether the two stars would possess onscreen chemistry proved irrelevant once Lopez’s character was revealed to a lesbian. Yet the bigger surprise for audiences was just how deplorable the film was. Affleck was still awkwardly settling into the leading man mold, and he appears thoroughly ill at ease in his scenes with Lopez, who seems to be counting the hours until her paycheck arrives. And who can blame her? The plot is beyond ludicrous, the dialogue is offensively bad and the cast includes one howler of a performance after another. Justin Bartha may have damned his career with his sickening “Rain Man” imitation, while Christopher Walken and Al Pacino earn laughs of incredulity with their mere appearances.

8. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Photo credit: WB

Like “Gigli,” “Eyes Wide Shut” is a film widely believed to have led to the break-up of its starring couple. Yet while Bennifer’s relationship amounted to little more than a fling, Cruise and Kidman had built a life together. Though they previously collaborated in two lackluster blockbusters, “Days of Thunder” and “Far and Away,” their work in Stanley Kubrick’s final project marked a new level of risk-taking, audacity and artistic accomplishment in both of their careers. The film grapples with themes that fascinated the auteur throughout his career, including the primal instincts of man, and how they navigate one’s behavior. Cruise stars as a doctor who embarks on a dreamlike odyssey of sexual obsession after discovering that his wife once fantasized about cheating on him. What psychological toll might a plot like this have on a couple, particularly while under the direction of a perfectionist like Kubrick? Late in his career, he would often force his actors to perform the same scenes over and over until they were practically drained of their humanity. Yet while Cruise spends a great deal of the movie looking dumbstruck, Kidman is flat-out riveting during her scant screen time, as she conveys her inner agony through the haze of drug-induced smoke.

7. Susan Buice and Arin Crumley

Susan Buice and Arin Crumley
Susan Buice and Arin Crumley
Photo credit: Four Eyed Monsters

Perhaps the most honest cinematic log of a disintegrating relationship is “Four Eyed Monsters,” the modern mumblecore classic from Buice and Crumley. These romantically involved, twenty-something artistic types found an innovative method to distribute their low-budget 2005 film by building hype and generating a fan base online. The surprisingly poetic and poignant picture was based entirely on their own relationship, which began in a most unconventional way. Since Crumley was too shy to introduce himself to Buice in a straightforward manner, he began communicating with her solely through artistic means. Though the film has several moments of endearing sweetness, it is refreshingly unsentimental of its depiction of two young adults struggling to forge a meaningful connection. Following the feature was a web series that continued the couple’s story, as they debuted “Monsters” to considerable success at the Slamdance Film Festival, while failing to secure a deal for theatrical distribution. The series ended with the couple’s break-up, yet their work still retains a certain magic, charm, and honesty that so many mainstream romances lack. I highly recommend seeking out this wonderful project, which is available in its entirety on one disc, rentable through Netflix.

6. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Photo credit: WB

Though Bogie and Bacall may be best known for “The Big Sleep,” their electric spark remains most resonant in the film where they first met: Howard Hawks’s 1944 Hemingway-meets-“Casablanca” mishmash, “To Have and Have Not.” The age difference between the two performers was striking, even at the time: Bogart was 45 while Bacall was only 19, yet her screen presence exuded the maturity of a young woman who was every bit the equal of her formidable co-star. The rapport between the actors appeared effortless right from the start, though Hawks took an immediate liking to Bacall as well, creating a feud between the director and his lead actor. Bogart became somewhat of an acting coach for Bacall, and freely allowed her to steal scenes from him. The couple married a year later, and are widely regarded as one of the great onscreen couples in film history. Though they starred in several more pictures together, no single moment in all of their collaborations has proved as memorable as the scene in “Have Not,” where Bacall utters one of the most singularly seductive lines in film history. “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and…blow.”

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