Rom-coms may not always be high art, but at their best they’re charming, hilarious, and life-affirming. And perhaps more so than for any other genre, a rom-com needs to have likeable protagonists. When they’re good, we fall in love. But when they’re bad? You end up with these people.
9. & 10. Abby Richter and Mike Chadway
Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, The Ugly Truth
Both of these actors could find themselves on this list for multiple roles, but The Ugly Truth features Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in their most annoying forms as the human embodiment of books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In this tired opposites-attracting tale, we discover that — men think with their penises and women think with their hearts. (The poster helpfully illustrates this idea, in case you’re having trouble grasping it.) The characters are hardly recognisable as humans, while the gender politics would’ve been out of date two decades ago.
8. Tom Hansen
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cute, charming, and a talented actor. That being said, his character in (500) Days of Summer is both smug and overly self-involved, and no amount of dimples can overcome that. Despite being told — very, very clearly — that Zooey Deschanel’s character doesn’t want to settle down and get married, he spends the entire film wondering why she won’t settle down with him and get married. (Maybe this is why you shouldn’t go to your six-year-old sister for relationship advice.)
7. Everyone in Sex and the City
People tend to forget that Sex and the City the TV series was actually pretty enjoyable, mostly because Sex and the City the movie was so awful. (We will not speak of the sequel here. That is forbidden.) During the transition to the big screen, the show’s four leads went from endearing if sometimes frustrating gals about town to shrill and outlandish caricatures: Miranda the dour, Samantha the nymphomaniac, Charlotte the poop joke, and Carrie the self-involved. Once upon a time, it was actually fun to spend thirty minutes with these women in their fantasy of Manhattan, but on the silver screen, they were barely recognisable.
6. Julianne Potter
Julia Roberts, My Best Friend’s Wedding
My Best Friend’s Wedding is one of the classics of the genre, even though Julia Roberts’ Julianne doesn’t get the guy in the end. But she does remain friends with her titular pal (and secret love) despite the fact that she goes straight-up crazy. In a dazzling display of selfishness, she attempts to sabotage the wedding of Dermot Mulroney and Cameron Diaz because she’s somehow decided that ruining her friend’s life will drive him into her arms. She goes so far as to impersonate Diaz’s father, which is probably illegal but definitely batsh*t insane.
5. Lelaina Pierce
Winona Ryder, Reality Bites
When characters in romantic comedies go wrong, appealing traits like “feisty” and “independent” often veer off into the land of near-psychosis. Take Winona Ryder’s Lelaina from Reality Bites. She meets Ben Stiller’s Michael when she throws a cigarette into his convertible, laughs at him, causes him to crash, and then laughs at him some more. This is not the sort of thing that gets you a date in the real world — it’s much more likely to get you beaten-up, or maybe arrested. It’s not surprising that they eventually break up, but the real question is why they ever got together in the first place.
4. Melanie Charmichael
Reese Witherspoon, Sweet Home Alabama
Reese Witherspoon is basically charm and pluck personified, but her character in Sweet Home Alabama is less “lovable” and more “unbearable.” The plot of the film hinges on the fact that Melanie is wrongfully ashamed of her Southern roots; she goes on a tear of holier-than-thou self-satisfaction that would turn anyone off. Nothing says “likeable lead” like drunkenly calling your family and the people you grew up with ‘redneck hicks’ and then outing your childhood friend. And then, when she finally grows up, sees the light, etc., she leaves her fiancé on their wedding day. Well done, Melanie.
2. & 3. Juliet and Mark
Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually
Of all the Brits that made up the sprawling cast of Love Actually, Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln as the cheerfully terrible Juliet and Mark are the most baffling. Juliet, who has just married Mark’s best friend, has always believed Mark hated her, when in fact Mark maintained a chilly demeanour because he was in love with her. Despite the fact that Juliet seems perfectly happy with her spouse, and the fact that Mark is supposedly a good friend, they both seem perfectly willing to cuckold said husband — on Christmas, no less — after Mark draws up some cheap-looking cards he uses to seduce her in secret literally steps away from his friend. Naturally, she’s super into it, despite having just gotten married and only recently figuring out that Mark doesn’t hate her. It’s probably best they find each other, because Chiwetol Ejiofor deserves much better.
1. Andrew Largeman
Zach Braff, Garden State
The quintessential rom-com sad-sack, Zach Braff’s Andrew Largeman muddles his way through Garden State, encountering a parade of off-beat New Jerseyans who in no way resemble real people, while being taught how to really live, man. Sure, he has his reasons to be depressed — his mother just died, he’s estranged from his father, and his career is a non-starter — but the truth about depression is that it’s supremely boring. While Braff is dragged along on his journey towards actualisation by an epileptic Natalie Portman, there’s simply no reason to connect with his character, even if you’d sympathise with his plight on paper.
Written and Compiled by Danielle Herman
Over to you: what are your most memorable insufferable rom-com protagonists?