MP Dunleavey

The Basics

How Hollywood gets money wrong

OK, it's fiction, but no one can live as lavishly as these characters do on the money they would make in the real world.

By MP Dunleavey

Remember the days when you'd leave your very first job wearing a hot designer outfit to meet your pals for an evening of trendy barhopping before returning to your glitzy apartment -- and you never had to think about money?

Of course not! Because folks who normally would be broke in real life can afford to live fabulous lives only in TV shows such as "The Hills" and "Friends" and in countless movies that defy the laws of fiscal physics.

It's true that we watch these things to be entertained, not informed or enlightened (particularly about money). Still, the disconnect between financial fact and fiction on-screen not only strains credulity, I would argue that it's another blow to our collective financial sanity.

When we see characters living in lavish homes on minimal incomes, is it any wonder we believe in zero-down mortgages? Let's give a few Hollywood creations the reality check they deserve.

Where are the milk crates and futons?

It's hard to say which is funnier: that "The Hills" features well-heeled 20-somethings living, loving and occasionally working in the toniest areas of Los Angeles and Paris or that MTV calls this confection a reality show.

Reality check: If you can afford to live in a gorgeous pad in a swank 'hood -- with a pool -- right after college, either you majored in hedge funds or Mum and Daddy are footing the bill.

At least as each season of "Friends" went on (and on), you learned that those gals couldn't in fact afford that giant two-bedroom (see? toldja!) apartment. They were mooching off of Monica's grandmother's lease.

Speaking of improbable real-estate setups . . .

The bank account is fiction

In 2005's "Hitch," Will Smith's co-star, Eva Mendes, plays a newspaper gossip columnist . . . who lives in a gorgeous, sprawling downtown New York loft!

Reality check: Let me tell you from hard experience, if the salary of this young, successful newspaper writer were about $85,000, her monthly take-home pay of about $5,600 would make it tough to cover her $5,000 rent (according to listings on Citi-Habitats), never mind all those cute duds she wears.

A more accurate depiction of where young writers live can be seen in "The Devil Wears Prada." Anne Hathaway plays the assistant to the editor-in-chief of a top fashion magazine but lives in a small, grungy apartment downtown (rent probably about $2,200).

The financial fib in this film is that Hathaway's character appears increasingly glam as the movie goes on, supposedly because the magazine's stylist agrees to upgrade her wardrobe. For free. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.

Reality check: Young women who work for fancy magazines rarely get to wear the haute couture clothes left over from the fashion shoots. Trust me, I once worked at Glamour. One time I had a hot date and begged the fashion assistant to let me wear one of the kazillion designer outfits that were lying around. She did -- with strict instructions to get it back the next morning or risk death.

Bottom line: In this story, the devil was getting someone into debt.

Money for nothing and your X-rays for free

Whereas the financial lifestyles of cops are usually given a fair shake, on-screen doctors and lawyers seem to live in some kind of cash cloud.

"The financial life of a corner-office partner in a major firm is presented as the industry average," a reader named Susan, who says her husband is a lawyer, notes on the Women in Red message board.

"Custom-tailored suits, luxury cars, steak dinners in wood-paneled restaurants every night, all for about five minutes' worth of 'Objection!'"

Video on MSN Money

Pay the check © MSN Money
Do friends cause debt?
Most of us have friends who make more money then we do, and it can put you in situations that are hard to handle. It can be downright stressful trying to balance your friendship and your bank account.

Reality check: Though extremely talented lawyers who are willing to work 80 to 100 hours a week for a big corporate firm can rake in the high-six-figure salaries, that's not the norm, particularly as most lawyers are stuck paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans for years after they graduate.

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Strangely, this never gets mentioned, says Susan, who adds that she and her husband used to be so broke that "getting a picture framed was a big expense."

Speaking of expenses, what about the way hospitals are portrayed? Apparently, doctors are so well-heeled and every patient is so well-insured that you never see anyone haggling over a bill, screaming about lack of coverage or filling out reams of paperwork while on his or her deathbed. Because it's all about saving lives, not making bank.

Another reality check: The medical profession is all about money. I'm still getting bills for my prenatal care (two years ago) and my appendectomy (a year ago), with no relief in sight. I think they're just making things up at this point.

Continued: For neither love nor money

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