One of them is rich, the other is poor, and they fall in love...

But why does it always seem that the girl/woman is uptight, constrained, somehow not a lot of fun, and it takes the boy/man to loosen her up? (I’m talking primarily about movies, not so much books or TV shows.)

If the girl is rich and the boy is poor, she’s in a gilded cage and he’s a free spirit. If the boy is rich and the girl is poor, he’s self-assured, often to the point of arrogance, and she’s too preoccupied with work or school to have fun. Or are there exceptions to this, and I just haven’t seen or heard of them?

IIRC, Angie was pretty much the opposite. And what about Pretty Woman?

IMHO, it’s the ideal of a man rescuing the woman from something. In both of these instances, the man is taking the woman to a new life, or a new way of life, or just getting her out of the unhappiness that she’s trapped in. You see this in *Aladdin *(“Let me show you the world…tell me Princess, when did you last let your heart decide”), you see this in *Titanic *with Jack and Rose, etc. It’s the ideal of a man coming by to save the woman from an unhappy life and take her to a happy new life/future. Someone else said that many women fantasize about a mysterious alluring guy coming by to spice up her life, surprise her and make her see or feel things about life in a way she didn’t before.

How about “Barefoot in the Park” or “Dharma & Greg”?

“Bridget Jones’ Diary” is also a counterpoint.

When the woman is the free spirit loosening up a strait-laced man, she is called a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl seems to be a major exception to the OP. Examples include Elizabethtown, Garden State, Almost Famous, Stranger than Fiction, Amelie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and plenty of others. The trope is common enough that there are movies that purposely subvert it, like 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks.

Really if you had asked me in movies who was more often the stuffy uptight character and who is usually the free spirit who teaches the main character how to live, I’d say that more often the man is the uptight one and the woman is the free spirit, though I don’t have the numbers to say which is more prevalent.

I think it’s because men in literature and in popular culture are the primary pursuers of relationships. Very few women in stories go after men in part because such behavior is looked down upon and could be viewed as husband hunting. Even today many women are very uncomfortable with the idea of asking a man out.

So if the man is the pursuer and the woman is accommodating then were is the conflict? If on the other hand she is uptight, arrogant, and unapproachable then the man has to find away around those qualities in order to woe her.

Forget about the genders. Are there examples of the roles being reversed? Any movies where it’s the straight-laced boy/girl who triumphs by taming the free spirited girl/boy and making her/him as decorous as he/she is? You might have partial examples like My Fair Lady or Pretty Woman but even in those movies the straight-laced character is shown to have compromised his original prim and proper ways and become somewhat looser.

Mrs Robinson might disagree with you.

Velocity and drewder: Yes, that sounds about right.

NotherYinzer and ISiddiqui: Refresh my memory: Do class differences come into any of those? Bridget Jones wasn’t poor by any reasonable metric; I don’t recall either of the men being super-rich. Never watched/saw the other two. But my question was strictly about pairings where one party is royal, rolling in dough, or both, and the other is way below them, socially, financially or both.

And yes, I’d forgotten about the MPDG, but again, how often does financial or social status come into it? I mean, opposites attracting is practically mandatory for a love story; as drewder points out, there has to be some kind of conflict. But it seems like when money is the source of the conflict, being rich is great for a guy, terrible for a girl. With Pretty Woman being an exception, of course, but I wouldn’t say Vivian’s life is terrific either, before she meets Edward.

In Bridget Jones, Mark Darcy isn’t royalty rich, but it’s alluded to that he is much more well off than Bridget. He is a barrister who represents huge publicity clients at times, while Bridget is works in television, but in a small role (after working for a publishing company). The movie was based on a book that was based on Pride and Prejudice so that should give some idea as to their relative wealth disparity.

Trainwreck is the inverse of this.

What about Bringing Up Baby the screwball classic with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant? Wasn’t she a rich heiress scatterbrain and he a straight-laced something-or-other, paleontologist?

Or What’s Up Doc? its rightful heir with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal? She turned out to be a wealthy judge’s kid / human chaos field and O’Neal’s character was a academic-poor musicologist.


Most Telenovelas are usually the opposite of this too.

L.A. Story: Steve Martin plays a straight-laced TV reporter who meets the free-spirited, somewhat ditzy SanDeE.*

I’m revising a sci-fi novel with the working title Killer: A Love Story that is arguably based on this premise, but I’m taking great care to make it as complex as possible.

The ‘‘rich girl’’ is the Daughter of the Asaltan Prime Minister, who has committed a terrible crime and is now a refugee from her own country.

The ‘‘poor boy’’ is the despised minority half-brother of the founder of the Levian Liberation Front – the founder being Asalta’s mortal enemy.

I had great fun trying to deconstruct these archetypes. She’s not a shrinking violet/virginal type, she is violent without compunction when necessary, she’s not out of touch with the ‘‘common people’’ and she is shrewd and manipulative. He’s almost a complete walking stereotype on the surface, but he is a raw, emotionally honest, lonely, psychological mess, a machine that is fueled by guilt and rage.

They each assume they are wildly different people, but they are really not. It’s not their differences, but their commonalities that bring them together. They share love for Fel’s brother even though they are on opposite sides of the war (she is a revolutionary spy and he could give a shit less about his brother’s cause.) Furthermore, they have both lived isolated and lonely lives and have had to deal with trauma and exploitation on their own. Neither of them has ever felt they fit in. When Fel finally does fall in love with her, he totally loses his shit out of sheer, blinding terror, and it’s Elen who takes the lead in the relationship. He has to learn how to commit to something he cares about, and she has to learn how to master her new, dangerous environment.

I tried really hard not to make it formulaic, because I hate the predictable dynamic you describe in your OP.

Spice Weasel: Sounds interesting!

ISiddiqui: Oops, I’d forgotten about the P&P homage. I read the book and saw the movie, but I’m not a Janeite, so it was not uppermost in my mind.

Sam Lowry’s trope link is pretty good. So much so that I would say the OPs premise is incorrect. Yes, one scenario is typically poor free spirit man with rich princess OR serious working girl. But the other common scenario is rich serious man with “magic pixie chick”.

I think the answer to the OP’s question is that for the relationship to work and be interesting from a storytelling perspective, there needs to character development. The poor flaky party dude needs to grow up and the protected/serious girl loosens up a bit. Or the party girl learns to settle down and the uptight guy learns to live a bit.

Some exceptions:
**Sweet Home Alabama - **Patrick Dempsey is a serious wealthy New York politicians son while Reece Witherspoon is from a poor Alabama family (although she is enjoying success as a designer) and used to have a bit of a wild side (and is still technically married to her ex). Although in the end, she does get back with her ex who is shown to have matured and is also enjoying newfound success as an artist/businessman.

Enchanted - Amy Adams is a Disney Princess brought to life (or at least 3D) and acts about as silly and naïve as one would expect. Patrick Dempsey is a serious New York attorney who eventually falls in love.

Bad Teacher - Another “boozy party girl falls in love with a more reserved guy” film staring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Nia Vardalos is trying to escape her gilded cage

Has our culture truly forgotten the classic, epic, trope-defying love story from Grease 2? We must not forget prissy, sheltered Maxwell Caulfield deciding to rough himself up to fulfill skanky Pink Lady Michelle Pfeiffer’s fantasy of a “Cool Rider, a cool cool cool cool rider” and “a rider that’s cool!” (damn those lyrics were like Cole Porter come to life!).

But more seriously, there’s Pretty in Pink and Mystic Pizza (Julia Roberts again) for two more examples. And Working Girl, where admittedly Harrison Ford’s character isn’t all that uptight, but he’s definitely loosened up a bit by Melanie Griffith’s Tess.

(Yeesh, am I giving away my '80s teen years or what?)

Class differences weren’t exactly at the heart of this, but the female side of the triangle in The Sound of Music consisted of the wealthy snob Elsa vs. the humble but free-spirited Maria, so I’d say wealthy Georg/Maria could be included here.

Surely if we’re offering Owl and the Pussycat (kinda nice to see someone remembers that, it was a cute if not brilliant comedy), The Way We Were deserves a mention. Redford’s Hubbell came from money, didn’t he? Whereas Streisand’s Katie was surely not far removed from the Lower East Side.

…Which reminds me of Carrie/Big in Sex and the City (only because in one nauseating episode, Carrie likened herself to Katie, and Big to Hubbell). Damn, I really know some hifalutin’ cultural references, don’t I?

But Rilchiam, it’s funny you should mention this because recently I’ve been searching for ballet- or dance-based films, and to my annoyance so many of them involve a prim ballerina being captivated by a guy who’s more of a “street” dancer, and my guess is that most of them involve the gal learning how to dance hip-hop rather than the guy donning tights by the end. So it’s a similar vibe.

Hmmm, speaking of showbiz films. I wonder if this sorta counts? Victor/Victoria? I know wealthy King Marchand (James Garner) isn’t exactly a tight-ass (he is a gangster, or as he would put it, a businessman who does business with gangsters), and poor Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) isn’t a manic pixie. But sexually, Victoria has no problems with cross-dressing (and cross-cross-dressing!) or being BFFs with Robert Preston’s awesome Toddy. Whereas Marchand certainly starts out being close-minded and… well, I can’t say old-fashioned since the film takes place in the '30s, and male discomfort at being thought gay was the vast majority back then. But at least he loosens up enough to go to a gay club with “Victor.” So… kinda?

That’s all I got right now. At least, without going into soap operas, where instances are rife of poor, scruffy girl who’s hiding a skanky past during her romance with a upper-crust guy.