[21 June 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Last time anyone checked, The Bible didn’t state that the “geek” would inherit the Earth. Yet when it comes to comedy’s current cyclical nature, the dork is the new dreamboat, while the good looking loser is the lynchpin for every possible punchline. We have gone from jocks going gross-out to garner a laugh or two to feebs feeling marginalized by a society that embraces their smarts but balks at their bodies. While we are still striving to find a balance between the hotness and the guy/gal with the good personality hook-up, movies have always made the case for love conquering all—or at the very least, conquering romantic comedy expectations.
Such is the case with the innocuous if spry and sunny She’s Out of My League (new on Blu-ray from Paramount). Instead of the wimp washing out here - in this case, a mild mannered airport security worker named Kirk (Jay Baruchel) - he actually gets a chance at the girl - an incredibly sexy party planner named Molly (Alice Eve). What happens next both entertains and aggravates, the storyline so pie in the sky that bakers are getting vertigo. Yet what we eventually learn is that Ms. Maxim will embrace the socially stagnant when she discovers that they have much more heart (and a lot less headaches) to give.
Now while this may seem like a relatively new approach to comedy, it’s actually something that the genre has been playing around with for decades. The only difference is that now the symbolic slackers are more grungy than gauche. Indeed thanks to Judd Apatow and his Knocked Up 40 Year Olds, the isolated and insecure are the new sought after sweethearts. Either women are lowering their standards or wisening up to the drawbacks of dating an ab-slab d-bag. Looking back, we can see ten earlier examples of how the hindered battled the handsome for ultimate romantic bragging rights. While not as prevalent a today, these geeks still found a way to overcome stereotype to land the ladies.
The self-professed “performing monkey” has always played the nerd, no more so than when he was uber-dork Julius Kelp in the original Nutty Professor, and because of his creative control behind the lens, he always made sure to have stunning leading ladies to play off of (and with). In Professor, it was Stella Stevens. In Rock-a-Bye Baby, it was Connie Stevens. From Jill St. John to Anna Maria Alberghetti, his co-stars read like a who’s who of then contemporary beauty - and he still looked like an idiot.
The snarky comedian turned auteur filmmaker is perhaps the first full blown example of romantic reaching ever in the comedy genre. From early highlights like Sleeper and Love and Death to ‘70s classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan, Allen played the well-meaning mensch unlucky in love to perfection. Even when he didn’t wind up with the girl (as in the famed Oscar winner) or found himself having to wait for the one he wanted (as at the end of cinematic love letter to the metropolis he adored), his slight framed, nerd glasses goofiness was the foundation for all the jocks vs. jokes romantic rivalry to come.
In Animal House, he wasn’t necessarily a nerd, but his big, boisterous rebel rouser Bluto was definitely not date material. And yet when all was said and done and the parade day carnage had cleared, the ultimate frat boy ended up with the hot blond babe. While women weren’t part of the Blues Brothers equation, Belushi’s Jake was systematically stalked - and targeted for a spurned lover death - by a still chic Carrie Fischer. Finally, in Continental Divide, the actor blossomed as a button down newsman who fell for an earthy outdoorswoman, becoming the least likely pre-Apatow leading man ever.
Joey Ramone (Rock and Roll High School)
As the object of desire for one P.J. Soles (the ‘70s version of the GNDYKTF - “Girl Next Door You’d Kill to ...”) the frontman for the famous punk legends didn’t have a big love scene or some particularly passionate dialogue. But when he sang “I Want You Around” as part of a bedroom fantasy, and “She’s the One” during a concert dedication, the gap between homely and hottie disappeared.
The “Zeroes” and “Zeroines” of John Hughes
In films like Sixteen Candle and Pretty in Pink, the man responsible for more than a few Greed era greats turned the tables on the geek, giving Molly Ringwald’s female outsiders a chance to shine. It was something he would also do with male characters like John Bender (Breakfast Club), bros Gary and Wyatt (Weird Science) and Keith Nelson (Some Kind of Wonderful). Indeed, before turning to far more kid-oriented fare, it is safe to say that Hughes set the benchmark for today’s lovelorn dorks and dorkettes. He even went so far to as give these loveable losers a more adult face (Uncle Buck, Only the Lonely).
Rupert Pupkin (The King of Comedy)
All he wanted was a little fame. All he needed was a big break. What he got instead was a psychotic case of stalking and a chance to chat up the alluring Diahnne Abbott. Still, with his wry mustache and bad fashion choices, Pupkin proved that fame goes a long, long way with the femmes. Even in his most desperate, dispirited moments, he could still use the enticement of celebrity to get the girl. Oh course, it would take major on-air incident and the crime of kidnapping to finally win her over.
Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy)
While he definitely looked the part that his name implied, the fatalistic bass player for the rapidly imploding Sex Pistols was actually a semi-sweet momma’s boy at heart. His only problem - aside from smack - was finding the wrong gal to groove to. Nancy Spungen’s lament about never being like Barbie because “Barbie doesn’t have bruises” is all you have to know about this doomed love story.
Paulie Bleeker (Juno)
Even though his personality is so unbelievably passive that you’d have to hire an archeologist to locate, classify it as such, and then actually dig it up, he at least figured out a way to impregnate his fave home slice. That Juno herself hides her own spotty feeb love for the dude (beyond her own aesthetic sense of ‘cool’) is what makes their twee, indie rock strumming relationship so interesting, and enduring.
Chris Knight (Real Genius)
He is, without a doubt, the geek standard to which all other brainiacs strive to simulate. He’s a blond surfer stud who also happens to be one of the smartest people on the planet. Even better, Mr. Knight helps the socially inept Mitch Taylor discover his own Mensa-made lothario as well. Together, they prove that there’s nothing sexier than slide rules, subversion, and science.
David Lightman (WarGames)
Looking at his computer set up know, it’s amazing that this PC shut in could access a power outlet, let alone a massive government defense system. Still, as the cheery programmer who hacked his way into a near-Armageddon, Master Lightman was so 64K savvy is was scary. Bonus points for landing a sizzling Ally Sheedy. Mega super duper dork points for being pals with ultimate cinematic stooge - Eddie Deezen!