Landline — Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre’s latest film — is a sweet nostalgia comedy set in ’90s New York that explores themes of family, infidelity, and young love. Slate, as Dana, is delightful as always; Abby Quinn is spot-on in her performance as the moody teen sister; and Edie Falco and John Turturro together is my dream parental casting. But I am not here to talk about any of that. I am here to talk about butt cuts.
One of the central plotlines in the film involves Dana cheating on her affable fiancé, Ben (Jay Duplass), with Nate (Finn Wittrock). Ben is nerdy, reserved, and reads the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue in bed; Nate is smooth, assertive … and sports a butt cut. When he first came onscreen, all of the butt cuts of my past flashed before my eyes.
For those blissfully unfamiliar, the butt cut – officially known as the “curtain” – was a style worn by boys and men in the ’90s that involved parting the hair down the middle, so the front strands would fall forward, essentially giving one’s forehead the shape of a butt. Jonathan Taylor Thomas had one, as did Nick Carter and Leonardo DiCaprio, before he got a newsboy cap surgically attached to his head. Remember your fifth-grade crush Zach? Butt cut. There were varying degrees of severity, with Shawn from Boy Meets World serving as the most extreme example of a butt cut from my youth, one that haunts me to this day. But not even Jon Hamm was impervious to the lure of the butt cut.
I consulted my live-in Gen-X expert, otherwise known as my boyfriend, to shed light on the butt-cut phenomenon. He was 17 in 1995, when Landline takes place, and the prime demographic for the look. “I don’t think I had a butt cut, exactly,” he told me. “But when I grew out my hair in the ’90s, I parted it down the middle and ended up looking very silly, like a doofus grad student or the bassist you kept away from the center of the stage.” But why did so many men fall victim to the style? “I guess the butt cut conveyed that you were wild and free in a restrained, conformist sort of way,” he said. “Which is probably why it was so popular with young, nonthreatening Hollywood stars.”
In Landline, Nate is conventionally handsome and charming, and it’s easy to see how he seduces Dana. And yet! The butt cut. (A floppy, disheveled butt cut to show that he is dangerous and sexual, but a butt cut all the same.) I understand that this was a deliberate styling choice to add further authenticity to a period piece, but it forced me to consider a true and horrifying fact about our collective past: Adult women of the ’90s were regularly forced to deal with this omnipresent hair disaster.
Ultimately (spoiler alert) Nate turns out to be a complete jerk — what we’ve come 20 years later to call a fuckboy. But he has also lent us a new life lesson, should this trend ever become circular: Never trust a man with a butt cut.