Style & Then Some

Pretty girls pretending to be unattractive | New Girl

Zooey Deschanel New Girl 500 Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel, image by Strandell

I had kind of a mixed reaction when I watched New Girl, the new American series which has just started on Channel 4. The concept behind the show is that Zooey Deschanel’s 20-something teacher character, Jessica Day, just went through a difficult break up (he cheated on her) and has had to relocate apartments to live with three young guys.

There’s something intensely irritating about pretty girls pretending to be unattractive onscreen if they don’t do it well enough. What I’ve seen of New Girl is witty and stylish, and Zooey Deschanel is certainly very watchable, but something about the concept of her male flatmates not taking her seriously as a romantic option isn’t quite… believable. This isn’t a Princess Diaries lets-transform-Anne-Hathaway-by-giving-her-contacts-and-doing-her-hair makeover, it’s true. This is a pretty and likeable girl who had a traumatic break up and is struggling to get her life together. That’s why it’s hard to place – is she doing a kind of younger, American Bridget Jones? Her ‘unattractive’ habits (singing mid conversation, doing silly little dances) can feel a little off, sometimes, like add-ons to an otherwise funny, sexy woman.

It’s not that pretty women can’t make themselves unattractive. There was all that fuss about how the stunningly beautiful Charlize Theron transformed into an ugly serial killer in Monster back in 2003 – part clever make up, part very good character acting. Tina Fey is an attractive woman who pulls off a believable unattractive hopeless case image as Liz Lemon in the comedy series, 30 Rock (which, by the way, has just returned for the sixth season – hurrah!). I think it has something to do with an actress’ ability to really let go, stop being cute and actually commit to being goofy and not sexy. There’s sexy goofy, and then there’s just plain goofy. Zooey Deschanel is almost there, and I really really want to like her in this role – she’s a style guru, funny, intelligent, fun, and she has amazing hair. But that’s just it – to really succeed in the role of Jessica Day, she needs to stop being Zooey Deschanel with her amazing hair and actually convince us that she’s an emotional wreck. We need to stop wanting to be her for just a second. That will be the sign that she’s turned from standard stuff into comedy gold.

Liz Lemon 30 Rock Tina Fey Saturday Night Live

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, image by jtbrennan

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About Sophie Caldecott

Writer | Founder of www.abetterplacejournal.com

10 comments on “Pretty girls pretending to be unattractive | New Girl

  1. Olivia
    January 18, 2012

    I read a similar piece in the Evening Standard saying that the only way women can show unattractive qualities but still be fanciable is to be clumsy and Zooey Deschanel isn’t really the comedy hero she’s being hailed as. I’ve really enjoyed New Girl so far and I hadn’t thought anything negative about it until I heard apparently she’s meant to be a new breakthrough in female comedy. I guess we’ll see how it unfolds but there has to be a romance with one of the housemates along the way doesn’t there!

  2. Sophie Caldecott
    January 18, 2012

    So true! I just tried to find the Evening Standard article, but couldn’t. Do you know if it’s available online? I’m hoping she improves as the series progresses, but we’ll see. I suppose it’s a lot to ask, to give up her ‘sexy’!

  3. Sophie Caldecott
    January 18, 2012

    Oh, and she’s definitely going to get with at least one of the housemates… it seems pretty inevitable.

  4. Jo Rush
    January 18, 2012

    I’ve also really enjoyed watching New Girl and had assumed that what was supposed to be unattractive about ZD’s character was all her quirks and emotional-wreck-ness in the face of her obvious physical beauty. (Heaven forbid producers base an entire programme around a character actually deemed “unattractive” by the rules of tv-land) But like you say, these “quirks” don’t really amount to much other than wearing scene-kid glasses, which we, the dumb audience, are meant to read as geeky when they’re really a style trend worn by far too many indie types already, the singing, which, ok, is a little weird but still cute, and her emotional-wreck-ness, which only seems to have amounted to watching Dirty Dancing on repeat and slobbing around a bit. I definitely agree that she needs to go way further with the “craziness” before she qualifies as a new female comedy hero. But why would she want to do that when sexy quirky is her USP, the thing she has become famous for – she may be the “new girl” but she’s been around long enough to know better than to look a cash cow in the mouth.

  5. Helen Coakley
    January 18, 2012

    I am so glad you wrote about this. I absolutely LOVE ZD but the press attention a somewhat (so-far) luke warm comedy is getting seems far-fetched. I read it was the answer to the new ‘friends’. I really enjoyed the pilot episode, but was really disappointed with the second. Hopefully it gets back on form and the writers add another dimention to ZD character. Otherwise she may be typecast forever. The fact that a STUNNINGLY gorgeous (emotionally vulnerable) girl moves in with three horny lads and they dont constantly try it on with her is somewhat unbeleivable! The cute clumsy girl thing is so boring now.

  6. Helen Coakley
    January 18, 2012

    Oh, and I effing LOVE liz lemon. ‘I keep a thermus of it by my toilet!’

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