While You Were Sleeping, and the Dearth of Working Class Romcom Heroines

Last week I watched While You Were Sleeping, which is but one leaf on my ‘Christmas Movies – Romcoms’ branch. I love this movie. It is cute and funny and genuinely romantic, and it stars Sandra Bullock, a fine actress who has contributed much goodness to the genre. I <3 Sandy, man. And speaking of Sandy, WYWS also features Peter Gallagher, aka Top 5 telly dad Sandy Cohen (RIP, The O.C.) and Bill Pullman, who has one of the sexiest voices of the modern screen era (srsly). So yeah, judge me if you must – but understand that it is you who lacks true moral fibre. Also, leave this blog now for there is nothing for you here.

I’m sure you all know the plot of the film by now (c’mon, son – it was made in 1995), so I won’t enchant you with the delightful details. As I watched Lucy go about charming the Callaghan family, I realised something. Lucy was different to most of the romcom heroines I’ve been seeing in recent years. Sure, she was a pretty white lady looking for love, and yeah, serendipity was her constant companion. But Lucy also had a job, and it was not a wafty magazine/media job, oh no. Lucy was blue collar. She wore what looked like a polyester blend tabard and worked a mindless job in a token booth at on the Chicago transit system. LUCY WAS WORKING CLASS! Here she is in her booth with the special pre-9/11 plexiglass, longingly staring after Peter’s retreating hot bod:

Carrie-style, I couldn’t help but wonder – where are all the working class romcom heroines? They’re outchea in real life, why not onscreen? Everyone works in the media, doing flowery lady jobs (sometimes they’re actual florists) and generally being tough-but-fragrant. No one ever seems to stack tins in those delightful retail pyramids, like I did for a number of years. I began a mental tally, which spilled out onto paper. So here we go – 19 Hollywood (and one French) romcoms, from 2000 to 2010, off the top of my head and what their leading ladies did for pink wine money:

Movie Year Starring… Lady job
Serendipity 2001 Kate Beckinsale Unspecified..?
He’s Just Not That Into You 2009 Ginnifer Goodwin Tea? Spice? office
Wedding Planner 2001 Jennifer Lopez Wedding planner
Music and Lyrics 2007 Drew Barrymore Housesitter
Confessions of a Shopaholic 2009 Isla Fisher Journalist
The Proposal 2009 Sandra Bullock Editor (publishing)
How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days 2003 Kate Hudson Magazine writer
Maid In Manhattan 2002 Jennifer Lopez Hotel housekeeper
27 Dresses 2008 Katherine Heigl PA
The Back Up Plan 2010 Jennifer Lopez Dog shop owner
The Wedding Date 2005 Debra Messing Airline customer exec
Brown Sugar 2002 Sanaa Lathan Magazine editor
Going The Distance 2010 Drew Barrymore Trainee journalist
Hitch 2005 Eva Mendes Showbiz journalist
Something New 2006 Sanaa Lathan Lawyer (Partner)
High Fidelity 2000 Iben Hjejle Lawyer
The Holiday 2006 Cameron DiazKate Winslet Movie trailer-makerObits writer/journalist
Bridget Jones’ Diary 2001 Renee Zellweger PR,TV presenter
Amélie 2001 Audrey Tatou Waitress

Not an exhaustive list, I know. Even so, whither art thou, cinema usher? Or the woman working the till in Tesco? I want to see the story of Rose the Latina cashier at Zabar’s in You’ve Got Mail, dammit. I know romcoms are meant to be aspirational (ugh), light affairs where things like the heroine’s relative poverty go uncommented on (usually). But screenwriters: I urge you to try and write more stories about people who don’t look like and have the salary of Scarlett Johnasson. I need more polyester blend uniforms in my cinema life.

Also, apropos of nothing, here’s a photo of a contractually obliged Sandra Bullock in a super-frumpy/traditional/old-fashioned/ugly* wedding dress. They’re always a winner on her because she’s luminous, innit:

*delete as appropriate

8 responses

  1. The only exception to the rule I can think of off-hand – and it is a rule, Maid in Manhattan another exception – is Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (I know). Ginnifer Goodwin and That Other Kate (Bosworth?) are check out chicks.

    I always thought it was interesting that most of the big reality TV shows from the early 00’s on in the US focussed on class differences, when it’s something widely evaded in other TV shows/movies.

  2. & I wanna add that it was way more common in 30s/40s screwball comedies to have genuine class barriers played with – practically every key romantic comedy did it.

  3. Might I add to your list Zooey Deschanel’s character in Elf? She works retail at Gimbels and states, “They shut off my water,” near the beginning of the film.

  4. Too true about the ‘lady jobs’. I find that it is more often the Indie films than blockbusters that provide us with working class heroines. Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy. Jennifer Anniston in The Good Girl? Actually, Waitress is a good example of working class women, with the lead women all working in a diner in the South (god, I love that film). But it does seem a shape that the working class women in these Indie films all have slightly less savoury fates than their shiny New York/Media Katherine Hiegl counterparts. It would be a nice change to have a film where the women is working class, in a blue-collar job without this involving drudgery and depression or their love interests ultimately going for someone glossier. Great post-food for thought!

  5. Working Girl – secretary. I love that is a throwback sort of film to the 30s-40s era of female comedy, the whole class switching. But yeah I get pretty annoyed with the “journalist/some sort of executive with a fancy office/lawyer” nonsense. This exact same thing has bothered me with most romcoms. The women aren’t real at all, in looks or in their lives/jobs

    Shopgirl – she (Clare Danes) works retail. That’s all I’ve got.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *