I know people who work as curators for galleries and museums. And so when I saw the Kristen Bell romantic comedy, “When In Rome,” where she plays the youngest-ever curator at the Guggenheim and her job consists of holding a clipboard and barely organizing the tackiest art show in the world, I laughed a lot. At her fake job. I needed to laugh at something; the movie wasn’t assisting in any other way.
Currently, I’m laughing the most at “The Lincoln Lawyer,” the latest Matthew McConaughey vehicle. He plays an attorney who practices out of the back of a car, one whose vanity plate reads: “NTGUILTY.” Now that is a clever movie sentiment that echoes McConaughey’s own J.K. Livin’ persona and gives you a nice shorthand treatment to the kind of rebellious, devil-may-care guy he portrays here. Because it’s the same guy he always portrays. But it kind of begs a response: NTBUYINGIT.
I have several doctors in my own family. My brother is a lawyer. I have friends who are teachers, scientists, military personnel, journalists (naturally), chefs, filmmakers. I even know someone who was once a prostitute. And guess what? Almost without exception, their jobs are not accurately portrayed in films. I called a lawyer pal about this movie: “Where’s his fax machine?” he asked. “Files? Where are those? Why doesn’t he just have a motorcycle law practice instead? That would take up even less room than a Lincoln and he’d look even cooler.”
Studios pay consultants to make the details look convincing. They credit them in that final crawl. But for every accurate technical term that makes it to the screen, something else is sacrificed for narrative flow. Work is, most of the time, whatever gets in the way of the plot moving in an exciting direction.
Profession: Science and Medicine
Bad Examples: 'Splice'/'Extraordinary Measures'/'No Strings Attached'
In “Splice,” Sarah Polley is a crazy scientist who uses her own DNA to make a human animal hybrid that later rapes her. Obviously she’s not as crazy as the sadistic German surgeon in “The Human Centipede,” but who is? And on a more mundane level, Harrison Ford’s snarl-based performance in the little-seen “Extraordinary Measures” makes never-sleeping, never-eating saintly research docs even more insufferable than you already guessed they were. “I’m already working around the clock!” he shouts at Brendan Fraser. Yes, yes, so is that janitor over there cleaning up after you. Give it a rest. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman as a medical resident in “No Strings Attached” has the gumption and firepower to go at it like a horny rabbit with Ashton Kutcher in the only waking moments she has between 36-hour shifts. Clearly someone is going to die on her watch, but she’ll be too love-hungover to notice.
Profession: Miltary service
Bad Examples: 'Full Metal Jacket'/'Transformers 2'/'The Guardian'/'Behind Enemy Lines'/'Brothers'
If “Full Metal Jacket” and all subsequent military themed films that stole from it are to be taken as gospel (such as the goofy Ashton Kutcher-joins-the-Coast-Guard movie “The Guardian”), boot camp is 24-hour-a-day brutality, humiliation and abuse where no rules apply and you might just end up dead before it’s over. In reality, based on eyewitness accounts from real soldiers, you spend a lot of time making sure your uniform looks good for inspection. Then, weirdly enough, when you go off to service, it is unlikely that you will be forced to battle space robots or entire angry insurgent forces by your own heroic self. Either way, you will also probably not come home and try to murder your fellow civilians, like Tobey Maguire did in “Brothers.” You’ll probably just go to community college with the money you managed to save and major in something with computers.
Bad Examples: 'Dangerous Minds'/'Election'
Teachers work really hard. They get paid relatively little. They have to deal with absent or overbearing micromanaging parents, testing-mad administrators and with kids who hate them for existing. That stress is part of their mundane existence. But in the movies, teachers are exotic animals, forced into one of two cages: the Second Coming of Secondary Education who melt the steel core of gang members by reading them the lyrics of Bob Dylan songs, or burned-out predators like the hilariously angry educators of “Election,” having sex with and/or plotting revenge on their students. This is because grading papers and making lesson plans isn’t fun to look at. Not even for a minute.
Profession: Law Enforcement
Bad Examples:' Point Break'/'Die Hard'/'Big Momma’s House'/Every movie about cops ever made
On the big screen there is nothing better than being a cop. You have to risk being killed all the time but you also get to go undercover in a funny grandma costume or go undercover as a bank-robbing surfer or go solo into a high-rise to take out a band of Euro-terrorists or help Sandra Bullock keep the bus moving at more than 50 mph. You get to regulate. You’re never the guy at the desk or the one directing traffic when the stoplight breaks or the one home bored on administrative leave watching “Golden Girls” because you got mad and roughed up a person who ran a red light. You are Denzel in “Training Day.” You are always Denzel in “Training Day.”
Bad Examples: 'Pretty Woman'/'American Gigolo'/'Madea Goes to Jail'
The person I know who used to “escort” made appointments with clients via laptop. It was a clean, businesslike (if illegal) gig. But for every intelligent Steven Soderbergh movie like “The Girlfriend Experience,” there are a hundred freaky filmmaker fantasies about doing it for money. Julia Roberts was the happiest hooker of all time before being whisked off to fantasyland by Richard Gere, who was himself an impeccably dressed, Blondie-soundtracked, exceptionally high-priced call-guy in “American Gigolo.” Take away the minor league moral crises and these people are pretty happy. Unless they’re Keshia Knight-Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable!) in “Madea Goes To Jail,” a comedy that also managed to include harrowing scenes of everyone’s favorite Cosby baby turning into a crack-addicted streetwalker. It’s OK, though, because she gets rescued at the end by a lawyer who loves her for who she really is inside.
Profession: Food Service
Bad Examples: 'No Reservations'/'The Back-Up Plan'
Making meals for people, especially snobby foodies, is backbreaking work. Chefs in restaurants have no time for nonsense. Unless they are Aaron Eckhart in “No Reservations,” a man with so much energy he has time to woo fellow chef Catherine Zeta-Jones with that whole food-is-love-is-life monkey business someone invented back during the sensual eating scene in Albert Finney’s 1960s movie “Tom Jones.” Even less work than being an acclaimed chef is, apparently, owning your own artisanal goat cheese farm, as proven in the Jennifer Lopez gimme-a-baby-NOW comedy “The Back-Up Plan.” Her beau (“Hawaii Five-O” star Alex O’Loughlin) runs that cheese farm and is also a wizard, because the whole operation functions smoothly without his ever lifting a finger.
Profession: Financial sector
Bad Examples: 'Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps'/'Sex and the City 2'
In “Sex and the City 2,” which opened after the financial meltdown got rolling, money man “Big” is seen blithely content with his new wife Carrie Bradshaw in their blindingly expensive mega-apartment. It would be most logical to report that in real life that character would be facing indictment, but that didn’t happen to anyone in real life, so this movie’s falsehood is in perpetuating the myth of his innocence. Only in “Wall Street 2” did any solitary character — the one played by Frank Langella — feel pangs of conscience. And that’s a myth too.
Dave White is a film critic for Movies.com