As a member of the Cornell University Program Board (CUPB), sometimes I get to do incredible things like hang out with lesser-known comedians such as Mike Lawrence, who opened for John Oliver when he performed in Bailey Hall last weekend. After the show, the CUPB-ites were treated to a couple of minutes with Oliver, who graciously agreed to take some pictures with us. I decided to hang back and, though I didn’t get an amazing new profile picture, found myself in a discussion with Lawrence that started with Zach Galifianakis, somehow got to pedophilia and then to The Social Network.
Lawrence commented that Sean Parker is lucky he gets to brag that Justin Timberlake played him in the movie, to which I responded, “And Zuckerberg too! I love Jesse Eisenberg.” Lawrence then said something along the lines of, “The fact that you are more attracted to Jesse Eisenberg than Justin Timberlake renews a hope in me I thought was long dead.” I laughed, and shortly thereafter we all dispersed, but I continued to think about that last comment for some time.
To me there is no question that I would see an Eisenberg as a romantic lead over a Timberlake. Part of what makes a good male romantic protagonist is the ability to imagine oneself with the character outside the film. If Justin Timberlake were to walk up to me and say, “You are beautiful and amazing, would you like to go to dinner?” I think I would say, “Justin, I am flattered, but you are too good a dancer for me.” I might be in the minority here, but I know I am not alone. My friend Mollie’s deepest darkest fantasy is that Jesse Eisenberg will hold her hand and tell her she is a cool person (mine is that Jason Segel will laugh at something I say and then ask me to go to Yogurtland with him).
To get a better understanding of what exactly it is that women can find so appealing about these awkward, six-pack-less fellows as screen heroes, I decided to isolate the qualities these men share. I started by identifying as many Eisenbergs as possible. It includes the Geeks of Freaks and Geeks, Simon Bird on the British TV show The Inbetweeners, Anthony Michael Hall in any John Hughes movie, Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Arrested Development, Chris O’Dowd in Bridesmaids, Topher Grace in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Aaron Johnson in Kick-Ass, Arthur Darvill in Doctor Who and Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
What I found is that the most important factor in making these dorks captivating leads is context. It’s the story and the character that make us overlook the fact that they are not Jon Hamm or Channing Tatum. This makes them more relatable, too. It is easy to imagine these characters outside their films, while the popularity and ‘brand’ of a Timberlake keeps him in front of a camera at all hours. In addition, they are all nice. All Jesse Eisenberg wants from Emma Stone in Zombieland is to push her hair behind her ear. And they are all funny. That is definitely the quality which Eisenbergs can hold above Timberlakes’ heads and brag about. Being able to make a girl laugh gives a man a lot of power.
Lastly, all these men have some confidence issues. They have all been rejected or betrayed by skinny blondes like Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall. This saddens me, because there are Mila Kunises and Emma Stones who, not only don’t care about Segel’s and Eisenberg’s lack of defined biceps, but find their goofy smiles endearing. Most of the women I know would much rather identify themselves as a Stone than a Sarah Marshall (though in real life, I love Kristen Bell).
I had a lovely time talking to Lawrence, but I am surprised that he assumed all women would want to see a Timberlake over an Eisenberg. I’m almost offended that I was placed into the same category as Marshall. If there are multiple categories of men, like Eisenbergs and Timberlakes, there should also be multiple categories for women. I am no Marshall.
It isn’t just me and Mollie who enjoy this type of male lead, and I hope that those men who identify with Eisenberg take comfort in knowing that there are 113,892 people who “like” Jesse Eisenberg on Facebook. We would all choose an Eisenberg in our movies over a Timberlake any day.