question of the day: What does Hollywood always get wrong when depicting ordinary people?

Joe Keohane in Slate last week took down Hollywood’s methods for trying to convince us that supernaturally beautifully actresses are actually mere mortals like the rest of us. It begins like this:

Every now and again, Hollywood makes a go at depicting the working class, often around Oscar season and usually to hilarious effect. The story is generally some slow-moving, minor-key piece involving ordinary folks struggling with ordinary problems in ordinary parts of the country. To offset the dreariness of such an errand, the lead character—a waitress, maid, or stripper with kid/husband problems—is usually played by a jaw-droppingly attractive star, who wins positive press for being willing to subvert her beauty in order to portray one of the great unwashed doing whatever it is they do out there in the dull diabetic landmass between Los Angeles and New York City. (Hiring ugly people to play working class is a job best left to the English.)

And then he goes on to break down Hollywood’s tricks into categories: ugly sweaters, bad haircuts, broad accents and profanity, and so on. With video clips, which are pretty funny, even when the movies he’s picking on are actually pretty good.
Following up at Jezebel, Sadie focuses on clothing:

But it’s not just said jaw-dropping attractiveness or the fact that said maid is frequently suspiciously gym-toned. The costumes are often slightly “off,” too. Take Erin Brokovitch [sic]. I remember reading that Julia Roberts (no stranger, of course, to playing wildly unrealistic working gals) wore a wardrobe of custom corsets. Why? Why couldn’t she just, I don’t know, shop where the actual character did and knock a few grand off the production budget? I wondered this even more when I worked in the wardrobe department of a TV drama; one of my jobs was distressing expensive new leather jackets and designer denim, all of which could, it seemed to me, have been found ready-distressed at any thrift shop. And as is the way of such things, it all looked Hollywood-real, not real-real. This is standard.

Clothes are my big pet peeve, too, when it comes to convincing portrayals of characters who aren’t supposed to be rich. What drives me nuts — and this applies more to TV than film, though it does apply to Erin Brockovich! — is when characters have seemingly bottomless wardrobes. It’s so common that I can’t help but notice when characters actually wear the same clothes more than once. And I like that: I want to see characters wearing the same outfits again and again. One of the things I love about Fiona on Burn Notice is that she does not have an unlimited wardrobe, and we see her in the same clothes from week to week.

What does Hollywood always get wrong when depicting ordinary people?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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