All You Need Is Love and Money

How romantic comedies shifted from the tux-wearing 1%, to the Meg-Ryan yuppie, to the hipster poverty line.

Meredith Haggerty
Oct 24, 2014 · 12 min read


The Screwball 1930s


My Man Godfrey

For Love: Wealthy Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) comes across a “forgotten man” named Godfrey (William Powell) and hires him to be her spendthrift family’s butler, promptly falling in love with him. Or Money: Thanks to secretly highborn Godfrey’s crafty investments, the Bullock family is saved from their reckless spending. Godfrey’s windfall is so great that it even allows him to open a swinging nightclub called The Dump, on the spot where he lived when he was homeless. This is where, in the last scene, Irene marries him against his will.


Bringing Up Baby

For Love: Flighty socialite Susan (Katharine Hepburn) falls for paleontologist David (Cary Grant) and schemes to keep him from his imminent wedding by involving him in the care and then the search for her brother’s leopard, Baby. Or Money: David goes along with Susan’s hijinks only because he wants her old-moneyed aunt to donate $1 million dollars to keep his museum open. In the end, the aunt gives the money to Susan, who in turn gives it to David as they declare their love for each other. Fun fact: Today that $1 million would be equal to about $17 million.


The Philadelphia Story

For Love: As Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), Philadelphia society girl, prepares for her wedding to George Kitteridge, her ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and newspaperman Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) show up to complicate matters. Or Money: On the eve of her wedding, Tracy is torn between her self-made fiancé, her social-equal ex-husband, and a wealth-despising tabloid reporter whom she has only just met. In the end, even the poor newspaperman admits that Tracy’s ex-husband is a pretty great guy, while her jealous fiancé condemns Tracy, Dexter, and their “whole rotten class.”


The Meg Ryan Era (1989–1997)


Sleepless in Seattle

For Love: Journalist Annie (Meg Ryan) hears architect Sam (Tom Hanks) on a radio call-in show talking about his deceased wife, realizes her upcoming wedding to allergic, awkward Walter (Bill Pullman) is lacking a certain “magic,” and writes the stranger a letter proposing they meet at the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Or Money: Sam is able to impulsively quit his job in Chicago at the start of the movie and move to Seattle, while Annie uses the cover of her job to pay for stalking Sam.


Only You

For Love: When destiny-obsessed Faith (Marisa Tomei—she’s no Meg Ryan but she might as well be) is just a little girl, she asks a Ouija board for the name of her soulmate, and it answers: Damon Bradley. Decades later, as her wedding to her mild podiatrist fiancé approaches, a Damon Bradley calls out of the blue. On impulse, she takes her best friend and sister-in-law Kate (Bonnie Hunt, the perpetually underrated best friend and Judy Greer of the ’90s) to Italy to track him down.


You’ve Got Mail

For Love: Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) are pen pals who met in an AOL chat room. Or Money: Unbeknownst to either, Kathleen and Joe are business rivals—his Barnes & Noble-esque megastore is opening around the corner from the small children’s bookshop she owns.


Recession Romance (2013–Present)


Obvious Child

For Love: After a devastating breakup, comedian Donna Stein (Jenny Slate) has a one-night stand with finance guy Max (Jake Lacy), resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. As Donna struggles with her upcoming abortion, Max tries to prove himself to be a real candidate for her affections. Or Money: Besides her breakup, Donna is also reeling from the closing of the bookstore where she works. Although she is attempting to make it as a commercial actress, she occasionally borrows money from her mother and has outstanding student loan debt. A struggling comic like Donna pulls in about $500 a year from standup, and about $20,000 from a part-time job. As such, her abortion is a financial hardship as well as an emotional one, although the particulars are not discussed.


Enough Said

For Love: Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party where she also meets Marianne (Catherine Keener)—a new client, a new friend, and Albert’s ex-wife. Or Money: Eva works as a massage therapist after her divorce, and makes frequent comments on the fabulousness of other people’s homes, clothes, and lives. Meanwhile her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette) struggles with such issues as how to fire her maid.


What If

For Love: Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party and falls for her, before discovering she has a boyfriend. When she asks him to be her friend, he says yes, determined to keep this fantastic woman in his life, convinced they can be “just friends.” Or Money: Wallace dropped out of medical school after a bad breakup, works a menial job, and lives with his sister. Chantry is a well-regarded designer, but resists a promotion thanks to a fear of change and success.

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Meredith Haggerty

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Freelance writer with words on @readmatter, @dailydot, @thehairpin and more. 1988 CableACE nominee for Informational or Documentary Host.

Matter

Matter

The original flagship publication of Medium