Here’s a fun game: You’re a woman — maybe a famous comedian. (Maybe a blonde one who’s had a banner year, I don’t know, not getting specific.) You’re writing an “unconventional” romantic comedy that you will also star in and in that process, you have been given the keys to the casting castle — you can dream up any sort of romantic lead you want to act opposite you.
Now, in male-engineered fantasy pairings, the love interest tends to be straightforwardly hot (see: Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek, Adam Sandler and Jessica Biel, Adam Sandler and Brooklyn Decker). And if I myself were given this power, I’d cast Tom Hardy or Idris Elba (or, hell, both, it’s my fantasy), then during the third-act climax, he’d perform a song for me written in the key of Drake. That’s just my taste. But I’ve noticed that as more women are put in the driver’s seat and get to choose their passengers, the love interest of choice has taken a particular, consistent shape: the average-looking dude with above-average emotional intelligence. The Emotional Bodyguard.
He’s not a dangerously sexy reformed bad boy like Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love., or a sweep-you-off-your-feet billionaire like Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan, and he’s certainly not a deranged, moody sex-fiend à la Christian Grey, or even an ardent emo outsider like John Cusack in Say Anything. This brand of semi-hunk is white and approximately Duplass-level attractive — handsome enough to catch your eye, but goofy enough so you feel safe. He isn’t suave, but he is reliable, employed (he probably has a 401(k) and a five-year-plan), and emotionally stable enough to weather the hurricanes of falling for a wacky, difficult female protagonist. He’s taken the form of Chris O’Dowd’s gentle and playful cop in Bridesmaids, which Kristen Wiig both co-wrote and starred in; and of Jake Lacy, who has played both the butter-warming love interest of Jenny Slate in Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, AND Lena Dunham’s non-neurotic boyfriend “a man named Fran” on season four of Girls. And here’s the Emotional Bodyguard again, this time as Bill Hader’s character, Aaron Conners, the love interest in Trainwreck.
Amy Schumer’s debut movie, which opened last weekend, follows the traditional rom-com model with an added dose of Schumer’s gender-flipping raunchiness: Girl meets Boy, Girl falls for Boy, Girl loses Boy, and Couple is reunited after Girl makes a hokey grand gesture. Schumer plays Amy, a booze-swilling, man-eating magazine journalist with an active sex life and underdeveloped emotional maturity. She fears monogamy, sobriety, and personal growth; loves dick. But the audience knows her boozy, hedonistic lifestyle cannot last.
And so, the love interest she selects to lead her down the antiheroine’s path of redemption and stability is Hader, whose rubber face becomes unconventionally dreamy in the role of a surgeon Amy is assigned to profile. He is emotionally stable, emotionally available, and supportive. He calls after sex. He wants a relationship. He’s not afraid to communicate. He knows how to have a healthy fight and set healthy boundaries. He also has a nice apartment, which he owns. He sees that Schumer’s character is skittish, and so, determined to be with her, creates a space where she can feel safe and vulnerable. Hader is an exemplary Emotional Bodyguard: He woos her, he makes her laugh, he supports her through a family tragedy, he buys her ravioli when she’s sad, he goes down on her a lot. Most hunkily, he’s tolerates all of Schumer’s emotional deficits. He doesn’t run away yelling “Crazy bitch!” over his shoulder. Instead, he waits patiently until she comes to her senses, just as countless women in rom-coms have done before.
To further underscore the character’s aptitude for intimacy, Schumer gives him a delightful relationship with LeBron James. LeBron stars as Hader’s best friend, taking up the traditional mantle of the “supportive sidekick” like he’s the male Judy Greer. LeBron and Hader might have better chemistry than Hader and Schumer, actually. Watching LeBron respectfully prod Hader for details after he “makes love” is a highlight of the movie. (And if they need a third for that standing Downton Abbey date, I’m in.) While Amy takes up the more boorish, stereotypically male antics, LeBron and Hader fret over her “intentions” and Hader’s broken heart. It’s the Emotional Bodyguard’s job to steer the feelings-ship into calm waters.
Trainwreck drives home the real benefit of this new archetype: He isn’t going to star in your sexiest fantasy, and he’d rather develop his emotional muscles than his abs, but your therapist would certainly approve.
Now, let’s shoot for the moon: Could someone please cast Tom Hardy in one of these roles so we can have a rom-com boyfriend who is both emotionally evolved and smoking hot?