There’s a scene at the end of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy is asked when she fell in love with Darcy:
“…how long have you loved him?”
“It has been coming on so gradually that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly.” (280)
Now, of course Miss Lizzy Bennet is not talking about the fabulous decor or grand architecture. The scene where she sees Darcy’s home for the first time is about how reserved and intelligent the yard work was and how that revealed some truth Lizzy didn’t see before. The importance of the home is its unavoidable honesty about the characters that live there.
Nearly two centuries later, and the rich and poor are still falling in love with each other in the home. The Prince & Me has several scene section of Eddy visiting Paige’s farm/home, and a parallel latter in the movie when Paige flies to Denmark and lives in the palace for a while. Aladdin has Princess Jasmine slumming it in Aladdin’s hole in the wall and then Aladdin conning his way into the palace. Starstruck has a far less effective set of scenes where the two practically run through each other’s homes, not bothering to take in much of the sights as they’re chased by reporters.
Suffice to say, it’s a trope. But why? What is the fascination these movies have with the home?
Consider this scene from Geek Charming:
As two high school students, Dylan and Josh spend a majority of the movie at school or filming Josh’s documentary in public spaces such as malls, beaches, etc.. Prompted by their growing friendship, Josh invites her to his house for the first time about midway through the movie. It marks the second time they’ve entered each other’s homes. She enters into this new environment, the first time she has been anywhere that feels as though it belongs to a middle class person, and is immediately greeted by Josh’s mom with a smile who tells her to call her by her first name. It’s not a flashy space, but it’s a warm place with low ceilings and cream colored walls and counters covered in practical items and little knickknacks. And it’s a fun space, in which the main characters don’t hesitate to show that they’re having fun with each other.
There’s two scenes early on which set up the main characters’ houses with parallels that demonstrate the fact that these are both environments that the characters live in day to day. Josh enters his house and as soon as the door closes he’s holding a conversation with his mom and being greeted by his dog who follows him through the rest of the scene. Meanwhile Dylan comes how to an architectural marvel with glass walls, mirrors, empty counters, and furniture that looks more like it was picked by an interior designer than a family. She walks in the front door, pauses, and calls out for the housekeeper who’s left a note saying where she can find dinner. After a fiasco with a mall fountain the two protagonists’ priority is to put their soaked items in the drier. Josh jogs through the small hallways with his dog gleefully following behind, and tosses his shoes in the drier. Dylan walks through a series of wide shots to the drier, finally breaking the silence by talking to herself.
Josh is eventually invited to her house and upon seeing this house Josh is stupefied, and she tells him “Real inviting right?” Dylan doesn’t have an unhappy home life, but she’s often alone. The architecture of her house serves to exemplify this. The tall ceilings and untouched furniture, wide open spaces, they create a sense that Dylan is a visitor in her own house. It is a prop, a manifestation of the popular girl facade she maintains.
What I think is special about this movie is that her house doesn’t stay alien. As the movie goes on and we see more of Dylan’s geeky side, her home becomes more welcoming. She helps Josh film the first real candids for the movie, her dad appears and Josh and him are laughing while watching movies together, she has a casual dinner with her father and his girlfriend.
As the facade of wealth and popularity is broken down, so too is the unwelcoming home.
The home is an effective tool in getting us into the mind of the character. Homes are a space of familiarity, comfort, and privacy. Characters are most comfortable inside them and thus more easily let their guard down. And as it acts as a common ground, where the audience can see how, despite the differences in style, the rich protagonist is a person, who lives in their house like anyone else; the home can make the audience and the poor protagonist empathize with the rich protagonist in a way they couldn’t in any other scene. Dylan’s personality is a facade, so when she is in the public she acts a certain way to protect herself. When she comes home there are no prying eyes, she can be expressive in a way that the characters and the audience hasn’t seen before. So when Josh finally enters her home he gets to see the facade drop for the first time. Entering the home becomes a key narrative element in understanding the real Dylan and creating the attachment between the characters.
The barrier in these class based romances is about how the outside world and the societal ideas around wealth affect and impede the characters’ relationship, it makes sense that the writers would want to go into the home to help alleviate the burden of the societal barrier.