Before making No Strings Attached, Natalie Portman always wanted to star in a romantic comedy, but she was wary of the genre’s typical female lead. “The girls are always in fashion, and it’s always about their clothes,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “That stuff offends me.” In No Strings, Portman instead plays a workaholic doctor, but what she may not realize is that the female M.D. who has sex like a man is a rom-com cliché, too. In fact, you can tell a lot about a woman in a romantic comedy by the profession she’s been assigned, so Vulture analyzed the eight most common careers of the genre to see just what they say about the women who pursue them (and the sort of men they inevitably fall for).
When a romantic-comedy heroine is a doctor or a surgeon, get ready for gender stereotypes to be subverted! Like the women of Grey’s Anatomy, big-screen female doctors casually bed-hop like men (No Strings Attached) and even look forward to SportsCenter (as orthopedic surgeon Cameron Diaz does in There’s Something About Mary). They don’t have time for that typical touchy-feely crap because they’re married to their careers, which leaves their male suitors to patiently pine for them until these ladies slow down enough to fall in love (though sometimes even that isn’t enough — a truly career-obsessed doctor like Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven will require outside intervention in the form of a coma-inducing accident that turns her into a ghost who literally can’t go to work).
Living in New York is a must for any magazine writer in a romantic comedy, and though our girl might work at a publication she deems frivolous, she dreams of working her way up to hard news (as in The Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days) or, at least, out of her fact-checking gig (Letters to Juliet). Still, she’d better be careful, as the magazine business is seductive and can turn this striving brainiac into someone shallow and callous (Prada, 13 Going on 30).
If our heroine runs her own restaurant, she is beautiful, successful, and independent, which makes her an easy mark for a roguish man’s man (It’s Complicated, Life As We Know It). If she works at someone else’s restaurant, however, she’s a blue-collar dreamer waiting for someone to walk in and save her (Return to Me, As Good As It Gets, My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
Like Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory, a movie heroine who works in television news is more inclined to nuzzle with her BlackBerry than a boyfriend. Pitching ideas instead of woo and trying to bring her program to the next level or get promoted, the TV-news gal is inevitably going to fall in love with a man who doesn’t take work as seriously (Knocked Up), and the cruder and more chauvinistic he is, the better (The Ugly Truth, Someone Like You).
Event planning: The romantic-comedy aspiration of the last decade! And why not, since the women who pursue it in films like When in Rome, She’s Out of My League, and Just My Luck are glamorous, capable, and desired (often by multiple men at once). Still, they really should stay out of organizing weddings (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Wedding Planner) because those are minefields of romantic heartbreak — and besides, isn’t it a little bit on the nose?
The fashion industry isn’t for good girls — it’s for women who’ve lost touch with what really matters. Whether it’s the designer trying to cover up her country roots (Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama) or the heinous romantic partner of the male lead (Idina Menzel in Enchanted and Salma Hayek in Grown Ups) who could frighten even Anna Wintour, rom-com fashion designers always have the farthest to fall — and invariably, they’re going to get mud on that expensive pantsuit.
The better a woman does in publishing, the better her wardrobe gets. If she’s toiling away in an ignominious job, she’s a clumsy frump (Never Been Kissed, Bridget Jones’s Diary), but advancing to reporter tends to confer much better hair (Sleepless in Seattle, The Bounty Hunter). Still, the real confidence and sex appeal comes for women who are critics or columnists (Sex and the City, Hitch, My Best Friend’s Wedding), though there is a danger that when a woman advances too far, like Sandra Bullock’s high-powered publishing exec in The Proposal, they become cold and remote. (Still, the pencil skirts and power blouses may be worth it.)
Women in romantic comedies can fall in love with all sorts of politicians, be they JFK Jr. types (Patrick Dempsey in Sweet Home Alabama), potential senators (Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan) or even Prime Ministers (Hugh Grant in Love Actually), but despite the high-profile inspiration of real-life politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, the rom-com heroine stays firmly out of politics herself. At least it’s a different story on television, where Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler finally seems to be getting a worthy love interest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is set to to star as a drop-dead gorgeous vice-president in the HBO comedy Veep.