A Tip o' the Shame Fedora to the Nice Guys of Cinema
Whining about being in the friendzone: Check. A tendency to lash out when faced with romantic rejection: Check. An outsized sense of entitlement hiding behind a paper thin veneer of ostensible “niceness”: Check. Hat: Occasionally check. For your perusal, may I present the Nice Guys of Cinema. M’readers.
Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim vs the World
“Have you ever dated someone who wasn’t a total ass?” “So far you’re not a total ass.” “But I’m part ass?” Scott Pilgrim may not ascend to “beat up my ex’s current boyfriend” level, but he’s still a gigantic tool. Behind the “oh gosh, oh golly gee, I’m such an insecure, sweet baby turtle” facade lies a person who mooches off his best friend, cheats on Knives Chau (you are too cool for him, Knives!), punks out on his bandmates, shows no intention of getting a job, and is, in general, a self-pitying narcissist who treats other people like shit. One of my favorite things about Scott Pilgrim is the way that just about every other character is not at all subtle about the fact that they think he’s a pathetic fuckup.
Duckie, Pretty in Pink
Let’s get this straight. Duckie, Molly Ringwald’s besotted best friend from Pretty In Pink, has some good moments. The “Try a Little Tenderness” lip sync. Punching James Spader in his snobby, sexy mouth. He has good style, and that fourth wall break is everything. But he also—how to put this politely—is a fuckheaded shitbird.
Pining after someone who doesn’t reciprocate your feelings stops becoming tragic and cute at some point before you hit the stalker stage. (“If I really have it solid for a girl, I’ll ride by her house on my bike. I’ll do it, like, a hundred times in a day.”) He constantly flirts with Andie, even though she clearly only likes him platonically and also sometimes appears uncomfortable with his advances. He acts like he has some sort of claim on her, talking to her father about how he’s going to marry her one day as if it’s some sort of foregone conclusion. (“I don’t want you to worry, because my only plans are to make sure that she’s taken care of.” GET BENT.) And, worst of all, when Andie has the gall to fall for someone else, the actual nice, rich kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy), Duckie loses his shit, calling Andie stupid and telling her “you can’t do this and respect yourself.” Granted, he eventually moves out of the perceived friendzone and into actually being Andie’s friend, encouraging her to go after the guy she actually likes. But for a good 98% of Pretty in Pink’s running time, Duckie, far from being the endearing nerd the movie seems to think he is, is an entitled dickweasel incapable of dealing with romantic rejection. He’s the most pitch-perfect example of a nice guy cinema history has.
Jareth the Goblin King, Labyrinth
“Hey, Sarah, I kidnapped your little brother for you! No need to thank me.”
“What? No! Give him back!”
“But Sar-ahhhhhhh. You said you wanted me to!”
“I WANTED NOT TO HAVE TO BABYSIT.”
“I moved the stars for you, Sarah. I’m offering you everything you want! Your dreams made reality! All you have to do is hand over the baby bro, and let me rule you unconditionally. TBH, I don’t know why you’re being so unreasonable about this.”
“…Dude, I’m, like, 15.”
The Phantom of the Opera
“What do you mean you want to marry your childhood friend, a rich nobleman who probably doesn’t live in a cave, instead of me, a stalker who kidnaps you and threatens to murder an entire opera house full of people if you don’t marry me? I’m the only one who appreciates your talent, Christine! Is it the mask? Do you not like me because I’m deformed?….. No? It’s the creepy cave-dweller murderer thing? Damn. #MusicTeacherZoned”
Xander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Xander’s a TV nice guy, not a movie one, but God damn he pisses me off so much that I couldn’t leave him off the list. “The Heart” of Buffy’s Scooby squad (AKA the one who’s not particularly good at anything, except having an existential crisis approximately once a season about how useless he is), Xander nurses an unreciprocated crush on the Slayer for seasons, even after he starts dating Anya, who is a treasure and a joy and absolutely deserves better than an insecure whiner who frequently talks down to her for being socially awkward. (And fuck Xander for cheating on Cordelia, too.)
Full rage mode came for me in the season five episode “Into the Woods,” when Buffy realizes her bland-o boyfriend Riley has been letting lady vampires bite him. He explains that it’s because they “need” him and Buffy doesn’t, a bit of fuckwaddery that turns his cheating around and blames it on Buffy for not loving him enough. Then, he threatens to rejoin the military. Xander, bland-o weenieboy extraordinaire, sides with Riley, telling Buffy that “You took it for granted that he was gonna show up when you wanted him to and take off when you didn’t… You’ve been treating Riley like the rebound guy, when he’s the one who comes along once in a lifetime. He’s never held back with you - he’s risked it all - and you’re about to let him fly because you don’t like ultimatums?” Projecting much, Xan Man?
Also, he wears stupid shirts.
Tom, (500) Days of Summer
More recently, a small handful of movies have gotten self-aware about how shitty the “nice guy” really is. One example is Ruby Sparks, a deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl trope in which a frustrated writer named Calvin (Paul Dano) literally wills the girl of his dreams (Zoe Kazan) into existence, only for their relationship to turn sour because Calvin literally controls Ruby and it turns out he’s kind of an asshole. Another example, a bit more under the radar in terms of its rom-com-subverting elements: (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, a struggling architect who falls in love with a woman (Zooey Deschanel) who says she doesn’t believe in true love. Through sheer force of will, Tom tries to make the relationship happen, even though—put it in flashing neon letters—SHE IS JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.
Though some people read Tom as a quirky romantic hero, Gordon-Levitt has spoken about the fact that his character is (intentionally) a major asshole: “The (500) Days of Summer attitude of ‘He wants you so bad’ seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones, but I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.”
Special props go to DreamWorks’ Megamind, which takes the “nice guy” and straight up makes him a villain. The character in question is Hal (Jonah Hill), a schlubby, socially awkward cameraman who wears nerdy t-shirts (no problem with that) and constantly hits on reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), whose repeated, gently worded refusals to socialize with him outside work deter him not one whit. So, yeah, that is a problem. The supervillain Megamind (Will Ferrell), in need of a new nemesis after he defeats Metro Man (Brad Pitt), injects Hal with a serum that gives him superpowers. But instead of becoming a hero, Hal turns into a villain, his lifelong persecution complex morphing into a rage-fueled sense of entitlement that extends to Roxanne; he thinks of her as his girlfriend (even though she’s not—hey, Duckie) and attacks Megamind when it comes out that he’s been dating her.
Basically, the villain of Megamind is every whiny manbaby complaining about how the new lady Ghostbusters is destroying their childhood. But with laser eyes. Megamind had the bad fortune of coming out a few months after the more successful Despicable Me, another animated film about a supervillain-gone-good, so it didn’t do nearly as well, but it’s very much worth a watch.
Edited to add: To hell with me, I left out Snape!
Nobody cares that you wanted to bone Lily Evans, Sev. She chose someone who didn’t hang out with members of the wizard SS. Stop being a dick to children.