While promoting Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story yesterday, Susan Sarandon explained the Hollywood casting basics. “In my business it’s all about your sexual currency,” she said. “People hire women they want to be with and men they want to be, and anyone who falls in between is a character actor.”
What Sarandon didn’t acknowledge (and this is not new for HE regulars) is that sexual currency standards have significantly changed over the last decade or so, and that the principal change-agent in this shifting landscape has been Judd Apatow. Producers and directors will always “hire women they want to be with,” but the guys they want to be used to be traditional or at least semi-traditional leading-man types, and now (and roughly since Apatow’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin) they’re not.
Here’s how I put it on 8.15.14: “Guys who got the girl used to look like guys who got the girl. And girls who attracted a lot of guys used to look like girls who attracted a lot of guys. But no longer. By today’s standards any homely, marginal, bearded or overfed guy or girl can hook up with good-looking types and nobody bats an eyelash.
“Blubbery Seth Rogen getting lucky with and impregnating Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up…uh-huh. Rogen married to and boinking Rose Byrne every which way in Neighbors…if you say so. Mark Duplass making sensitive-guy moves on Melissa McCarthy in Tammy…really? The bulky, nearly bald Steve Zissis connecting with Amanda Peet on HBO’s Togetherness…right. Anne Hathaway being sufficiently taken with Rafe Spall to move in with him in One Day…remarkable. The obviously desirable Anna Kendrick and Keira Knightley finding dweeby twee-male Mark Webber attractive and beddable in Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies and Joe Swanberg‘s Happy Christmas…huh?”
“In short, Apatow’s rules of attraction have been sinking in for years and we’re all buying it.
“Movies have been a thriving industry for a little over a century now, and for most of this period romantic male leads were cut from a certain cloth. Until the Apatow thing kicked in there are two categories — studly, straight-arrow romantic leads (everyone from Cary Grant to Van Johnson to William Holden to Steve McQueen to Ben Affleck to Brenton Thwaites) to less studly, mostly pleasing but less-than-drop-dead sexy romantic male also-rans or “best friends” (i.e., Ralph Bellamy back in the ’30s, Wendell Corey in the ’50s).
“Romantic male leads used to be guys whom (a) women could pleasurably imagine going to bed with and/or marrying, and (b) straight guys recognized as superior alpha males with excellent genes. But Apatow has stepped in and said ‘fuck all that superior genes stuff….schlubby genes are actually pretty nice.’
“What’s changed is not only the quality of the alphas but the romantic also-rans — i.e., the guys who never got the girl. Over the last decade or so the rise of cheap digital cinema and…whatever, the Sundance Film Festival aesthetic plus downswirling GenY-ish attitudes plus a few Apatow-perpetrated scenarios have ushered in a politically correct notion that dweeby, dorky-looking guys or less-than-drop-dead-knockout girls (i.e., Lena Dunham being the standard-bearer) are just as acceptable in a romantic context as anyone else.”