How Messy Do You Like Your Heroes? 10 Of TV And Film's Most Beautiful Disasters
It’s no mystery that we love a flawed hero. Who wants to see a glossily perfect human being float through life? Where’s the drama (or even the comedy) in that? Heck, even the most recent Superman, our own American Jesus, is laboring under more angst than he ever has before. But how flawed is too flawed? Everyone has their own barometer, their own threshold for walking disasters. Some hold Hannah from “Girls” or Ignatius Jacques Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces” up as perfectly imperfect. But for me (in Season 2 of “Girls anyway) they push past the boundary of acceptably and enjoyably messed up. I can’t root for them. The following ten characters, on the other hand, possess just the right degree of haplessness and self-destructive tendencies. I may cringe at their behavior from time to time, but they have my heart.
Geoffrey Tennant — “Slings And Arrows”: Driven mad or actually haunted by the ghost of his former friend and mentor, Artistic Director Geoffrey Tenant is our Hamlet proxy for this fizzily enjoyable love letter to Shakespeare. What he lacks in Hamlet’s cold, Germanic philosophy, he more than makes up for in his tendency to speak to the empty air. Geoffrey’s antic disposition might wear on us a little around Season 3 (when everything in the Series begins to wear on us a little) but for the most part the way in which he wears his heart on the wrinkled sleeve of his overcoat is enough to keep our sympathy.
Annie Walker — Bridesmaids: I must admit Kristen Wiig’s erstwhile baker pushes past the lovable boundary a few times in this movie. It’s hard to watch someone in free fall. Between blowing up both friendships and relationships (who yells at an Irishmen who buys you flour?), Annie is on an amazing self-destructive roll. But, ultimately, her love for Maya Rudolph’s Lillian and her eventual self-awareness, won me back to her side.
Daisy Steiner and Tim Bisley — “Spaced”: We love them. Even when they’re lying. Even when they’re scamming the welfare office. Even when they’re too loud, too drunk and too lazy. Because they’re Tim and Daisy. And they found each other.
Frances Halliday — Frances Ha: Even as Frances wanders from sublet to coach to dorm room and back again, she remains steadfastly lovable. She may lie to save face or make odd, rash travel decisions but, ultimately, she develops enough practicality and sense of self to keep us on her side. The only complaint I have about Greta Gerwig’s Frances is that she’s just a little too beautiful and put-together for the Frances she seems to be trying to portray. Her self-description of “the girl with acne holding more acne” is a little laughable when juxtaposed with Gerwig’s luminous, raw boned face but, at the very least, her hair remains unbrushed throughout.
Jeff — Jeff, Who Lives At Home: He might live in his mother’s basement and smoke too much weed and generally lack a desire to put on pants, but Jason Segel’s Jeff is leaps and bounds more sympathetic than his weasel of a brother (played goatee-ly by Ed Helms). But the journey these two men take towards the middle, towards each other, is absolutely heart-warming.
Bridget Jones — Bridget Jones’s Diary: If you want to see just where my patience with Bridget’s antics breaks, you need only look to the dreadful 2004 sequel. This was a complete character assassination of the blowsy but sweet girl we’d come to know and love from the first film and the books. But the original Bridget’s most endearing quality, her love for and dedication to her friends, makes her haplessness worth it.
I — Withnail & I: You know who does try my patience? You know who tries everyone’s patience? The titular Withnail. Perhaps the messiest, most disastrous individual on the list, Withnail’s selfish, wine-soaked demeanor is funny from a distance but would be impossible to live with. But what’s important to remember is that the titular “I” dwells in the same squalor, sucks down the same amount of booze and is as willing to prey upon Uncle Monty’s generosity. The difference? “I” is, ultimately, good-hearted. Here are two individuals who exist on either side of the of my disaster threshold and though part of me is pained to see “I” shave and cut his hair and move on at the end of the film, there is another part of me that knows there’s no other way the story could end.
Will Graham — “Hannibal”: Bryan Fuller is so damn brave to make two completely mentally unstable characters the twin leads of a network drama. But whereas Mads Mikkelson’s reserved psychopathy and natty suits make him a familiar figure in fiction, Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham has come completely unhinged. Often sweaty, ill-kempt and suffering under delusions, he’s a hard character to hold on to. But Dancy is so earnest and Graham so vulnerable that, despite his warped world view, he’s easy to love.
Starbuck — “Battlestar Galactica”: Picks fights, drinks too much and alienates the affection of those closest to her. Despite her enviable musculature, wolfish grin and slick skills in the cockpit, Kara Thrace is an absolute mess of a human being. Too much of a mess for some. I’ve heard plenty of Starbuck hate here and elsewhere. But I don’t know if it’s because of Katee Sackhoff’s appealing demeanor or some deft maneuvering on the part of the writers, but Starbuck never lost me. Not once.
Lester Bangs — Almost Famous: Though not a complete disaster (nor even our hero), it is interesting, is it not, that we take the word of Lester Bangs, a sloppy man who’s always home and eager to talk to a teenager, as gospel. And yet, we do. He speaks pearls.
Joanna Robinson understands Hannah from “Girls” is not done with her journey yet. She may get there.