Zooey Deschanel is the darling of the indie movie/music scene, the face that launched a thousand bang haircuts. She is also the perfect person to play an impossibly lame, incredibly charming, recently dumped twenty-something on Fox’s new television show, New Girl. Like Tina Fey, Deschanel plays against type and allows her nerdiness to blend with her sex appeal.
The show’s creator, Elizabeth Meriwether, a Yale alumna with a background in playwriting, seems to have learned the danger of creating pretty, one-dimensional characters. She also wrote this year’s No Strings Attached, which featured Natalie Portman as an inexplicably frigid medical student who just wants something physical but then discovers she really wants love!
With New Girl, Meriwether finds a better balance, creating a character the viewer can have more than one emotion toward. Although many critiques of the show have pointed to the blatant incredulity of Deschanel as a hapless, dateless dork, I think it works. Sure, the goofiness is sometimes a bit much, but I like to think of it as a sort of Diane Keaton-Lucille Ball silliness that works well with the character.
I’ll admit that Deschanel’s character, Jess, isn’t perfect. I’d like her to have more Lord of the Rings references and less high-pitched crying, but I think these are kinks that will be worked out. Pilot episodes are not exactly the best measures of future success. It’s almost always upward from there.
“The Pinup of Williamsburg,” a recent New York magazine cover story on Deschanel touched on the issues some have with the doe-eyed actress and her unabashed femininity. The double-standard women face in the entertainment industry is nothing new, but the kind of mud-slinging among women is startlingly aggressive. A flurry of biting comments have been made about Deschanel.
Take, for example, comedian Julie Klausner’s rant in which Deschanel’s girly image was used as a point for her argument that “it’s a lot easier for men — or even guys or bros — to demean us, if we’re girls. It’s much harder to bring down a woman, or to call her a moron, when she’s not in pigtails.”
I have, on occasion, worn pigtails. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make me Phyllis Schlafly. Deschanel’s response to Klausner, in which she pointed out, “The fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined,” points to one of the central issues with feminism today.
I’m annoyed with attacks on Deschanel being “too pretty” to act as anything but a heartbreaker because it seems so unfair. It undermines Deschanel’s talent as an actress to suggest that her physical appearance and whimsical persona limit the kinds of roles she can play. It’s condescending. Did anyone tell Brad Pitt that portraying a miniature, troll-like old man in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was maybe not a good idea? Was Billy Bob Thorton told to take it easy with the brooding eyebrows in Sling Blade?
Just because Deschanel played everyone’s favorite hipster dreamgirl in (500) Days of Summer doesn’t mean she can’t depict less of a guy-magnet on TV. Deschanel entered the young Hollywood A-List with that role and has since become a polarizing figure, both in fiction and reality. Many viewers took issue in deciding whether Deschanel’s character, eponymous Summer, was totally heartless in rejecting sweet, hopelessly romantic Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom.
I think Deschanel’s choice of a part so inherently feminist is indicative of her view on gender roles. I’ll admit, the first time I saw the movie, I thought Summer was a robot. I’ve since changed my opinion and count Summer Finn as one of the more realistic, relatable female characters written for the screen in recent history.
I’m not saying that we should all adopt Deschanel as an idol simply because she wears false eyelashes and vintage dresses. Each woman is entitled to choose whomever she wants to idolize. But it’s not fair to discount her as a legitimate figure because she’s so “adorkable.”
When we reduce femininity to something superficial and frilly, we discount years of progress intended to allow women to live without the restraints of societal expectations. Equality doesn’t mean we’re all equally allowed to act like men. It means we can be whatever we want to be.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Duly Noted appears every Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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