Monday, June 14, 2010

Anatomy of a Girlcrush: Zooey Deschanel

Up until this year, I went back and forth on Zooey Deschanel.

Those of you who read my (500) Days of Summer review will recall that I liked her more snarky roles, such as Anita Miller in Almost Famous and Sarah Jessica Parker's bird-hating roommate in Failure to Launch, but was a bit bugged by her performance as Summer and her persona in general.  Could anyone really be that whimsical?  Kind of like Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, whom I hated with a passion, I felt that Zooey/Summer was created out of thin air (or maybe by an L.A. publicist) as the ultimate male fantasy: beautiful, ethereal, just informed enough to keep up with the manboy in question, but just dim enough so he felt more man than boy.

Granted, I felt Summer redeemed herself at the end of the film (plus I agreed with her lackadaisical view on relationships for the movie's first three quarters).  I still wasn't sure about Zooey.

Then I got into the first season of Top Chef Masters (won by none other than Chicago's own Rick Bayless, holla!).  Zooey was featured in a challenge: the cheftestant finalists had to make lunch for her, her mother, and a group of friends . . . however, Zooey was a vegan at the time and had various food sensitivities, including a gluten allergy.  Now I have NO PROBLEM with people with food allergies--I want to make that clear.  If you can't eat something, or you just plain don't want to, that's your prerogative (and if it's an allergy you can't help it!).  However, these were some SERIOUS dietary restrictions, and I snorted to my roommate, "oh my God, could she BE any more of a special snowflake?"

Then the actual lunch party happened, and despite my earlier snarkiness, I couldn't take my eyes off the girl.  No airbrushing, in outdoor lighting (not always friendly, especially in reality-TV land), and just chilling with her friends . . . she was luminous.  Lovely.  And apparently blessed with good genes, as her mom was gorgeous too.

And I couldn't hate her anymore, because she was so pretty.

Dude, I'm a feminist.  Saying I like someone because they are pretty feels like the equivalent of not reading Catcher in the Rye because there are no pictures on the cover.  Judging a book by its cover, in other words.  I mean, yes, I've done my fair share of ogling hot dudes, but it feels different when you're judging your fellow woman, you know?  As a gender, we're supposed to be better than that.

And yet there's something to be said for beauty, whether it's a lovely Degas, the sun going down and the city lights coming up, or seeing an attractive person.  It makes you happy.  And the best kind of beauty doesn't intimidate you.  It just makes you smile.  It makes you want to be better.  Whether it's man made or natural or a combo, it may inspire you to do some creating of your own.

For me, that moment will forever be known as The Zooey Effect.

And then a few months ago, Bob introduced me to a music group, whom I'd vaguely heard of but never checked out for myself.  "They're called She & Him, and they've got sort of an early-seventies sound that you'll love," he enthused over email.  "I know a lot of girls don't like her, but she's got a really sultry voice."  "Who's 'her'?"  I responded.  "Zooey Deschanel," he wrote back.

A week later, I was in love with Volume One.  The lyrics were simple, the melodies true, and the harmonies, well, harmonic.  What I love about sixties and seventies supergroups like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Queen is the sheer emotion of their songs: those guys put it ALL out there.  (If you don't believe me, listen to CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"  One of the best musical expressions of grief ever composed.)  Zooey and M. Ward not only sounded perfect together, with tunes in my range that I didn't feel embarrassed singing under my breath or out loud to my cat, but their music made me at once happy and sad, content and longing.  Faceted in its simplicity.

At this point, I went from being lukewarm on Zooey to wanting to be Zooey.

Not in a gross, it puts the lotion on its skin way, of course.  But Christ, the girl has a pretty solid acting career.  She met M. Ward on the set of an indie flick and for the first time was inspired to share the songs she'd been writing for years, and a dynamic duo was formed.  Her fashion sense rocks.  Her voice at times reminds me of Loretta Lynn, who I've always loved.  My mom said it best: "it's like she's from another era."  A way cooler, more dreamy retro-chic era where more people strummed guitars and no one got Botox.

I know how the L.A. PR machine works.  I know that Zooey's indie girl image is just as packaged as Megan Fox's overtly sexual one.  However, there's something genuine about Zooey Deschanel that you don't see in most post-millenial stars.  A coworker and I were discussing her appeal the other day: "you just can't hate her," my coworker said, "because it seems like she actually IS that way."  "I know!"  I agreed.  "I know it's part of her image, but it doesn't seem affected.  You get the feeling she just is."

Last week, I was fortunate to see She & Him live at Chicago's Millenium Park.  Live, the songs were both soothing and surprisingly rockin'.  The gaggle of fans, most of whom were dressed like me, all had a grand old time bopping and mouthing along as the sun set and the downtown lights came up.

And Zooey was just lovely.  Clearly happy in her musical world.  She didn't do much talking onstage, but I've read that she's shy, so that's understandable.  And honestly? If musicians aren't comfortable with onstage banter, I prefer they not engage.  Better minimal than forced, ya know?

All in all, it was a wonderful night and when she sang "Home," I felt like I was in the exact right place.

I'll never be Zooey Deschanel, that's for sure.  I do have blue eyes, but they are nowhere near as cornflower.  I'm blonde and bespectacled and argumentative.  My voice is more loud than pretty, and I've never strummed a ukulele in my life.

As Bob has observed, I'm way more Britta on Community: outspoken yet often unsure, with an agenda and an ax to grind, but plenty of awkwardness too.

And you know what?  That's okay.

But I'll always have the divine Ms. D to look at, and look up to.

For some Monday morning smiles, check out this supercute video, where Zooey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are having too good a time.  (And despite the fact that I am in looove with JGL, I'm not even jealous of her.  Much.)

P.S.  A big fat CONGRATS to LadyJ3000 for winning last week's Deception giveaway!  I will be emailing you soon for your info.  Hope you like the book!


  1. This is my first visit to your blog and I cannot believe this post!! I have been struggling about my feelings for Zooey for soo long! I can't decide if I like or dislike her. I completely agree with you about the character of Summer. You may have pushed me into the girl crush category :) It's so crazy how we judge women differently than men!!

  2. Saumya, welcome! I'm always happy when a new reader comments!

    As you will see in this blog, I'm obsessed with dissecting all of my pop culture likes and dislikes. My Zooey hate-to-love was this week's candidate.

    If you haven't listened to She & Him, I highly recommend them. Not only is her voice excellent, but M. Ward is scarily talented.

  3. I love Zooey Deschanel. Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies.

  4. Nice putting-the-finger-on-why post! I'm neither here nor there on Zooey, I haven't listened to any She and Him so I can't judge that, and I've only seen her in Almost Famous and...something else that I forget. She strikes me as someone that is both incredibly lucky, but who also takes whatever's naturally fabulous in her life (like her face!) and makes the most of opportunities, which I find admirable.

  5. Okay, I'm not sure if my above comment made sense...I'm a real, (tired) person, not a spambot trying to get your bank account number haha :)

  6. Don't worry, Laura, I totally understand you! I've had one of those days too. :)

    Zooey is indeed lucky, having basically grown up in the business (her dad is a cinematographer, and her mom's an actress). It's interesting how Hollywood family kids seem to go one extreme or the other: they're either very well-adjusted (the Gyllenhaals and Kate Hudson come to mind) or extremely fucked up (Mackenzie Phillips, anyone?). Even though L.A. is a very weird place, I guess it's like everywhere else: it's all about how you're raised (and even then, I know, things can go wrong).

    But yeah, she seems to really take her opportunities and run with them, which is pretty admirable.

  7. I fell in love with Zooey in Almost Famous. Then her quirky turn as Andy Botwin's love interest in Weeds cemented it for me. By the time I heard She and Him about six months ago, about the same time I saw her as a teenager in a teeny tiny movie called Eulogy, I was head over heels in LOVE with her. She just makes me feel good and want to smile. And there's nothing wrong with that!

  8. I'll now have to admit to liking her because she's pretty too!
    Apart from The Happening I haven't hated her in anything, I've heard of the band she's in but now may actually have to check it out.

  9. visiting you from what i read back then - nikki's blog.

    gotta tell you i love jgl and zooey. the fact that she is married to death cab ben makes me smile. two of my faves together. i haven't been that happy for a couple since ad-rock and ione skye though was bummed when that ended.

    okay, sorry for the tangent.

  10. My liking her was pretty cemented when I found out her dad was the cinematographer on Twin Peaks. Weirdly, though, I don't like her sister.

  11. Oh sweet Lord. I want to be Zooey, too. I want her husband. I want her hair. I want her life. In a completely non-creepy way, of course.

    I had no idea she was in Almost Famous! It's irritating me that I can't picture her in it now. Arrr!

  12. I actually first liked her in a movie called Winter Passing, which was odd, but remains one of my favourite movies. I don't really ook for her stuff, but movies like that as well as She & Him do make me smile.

  13. Nikki--normally I'm not a fan of Weeds, but I might have to check out her episodes. (And hey, I'll get to ogle my boy Hunter Parrish too!)

    Amiee--I'm sorry you had to see The Happening. I heard it was teeeerrible. Definitely check out She & Him!

    Ally--thanks for visiting and please come back! Isn't it just too perfect she's married to Ben Gibbard? And I kind of hate her for getting to play opposite JGL twice (also in Manic). He's one fine man and a damn good dancer too!

    Annie--I haven't seen Bones, so I can't make any judgments on Emily. I will say that I like how their family seems very functional--not always the case with showbiz clans.

    Alison--"This song is why I'm leaving home to become a stewardess." That was her: the main character's older sister. One of my favorite characters (I didn't really care for Penny Lane).

    Helen--I keep hearing about Winter Passing. It's now on my To Watch List!

  14. You are hilarious and I love your blog. And, as a long-time Zooey-lover, she lived in my dorm in college and (as far as I could tell from love-struck staring in the cafeteria) she was adorably quirky then too. So it's not a purely PR-produced image.

  15. I've seen this actress here and there. I always wondered how an attractive young woman like this can't have a happy relation with someone. Is it me or marriage seem to be easily put on the curb with trash. Whoever will spend the rest of his life with her should consider himself very fortunate. She looks so adorable.