I spent two of my three available afternoons this weekend watching the Kristen Wiig-led anti-romantic comedy Bridesmaids. I love everything in this film from the honest exploration of emotions in a life-long female friendship to the feelings of exclusion when one person’s life seems to skyrocket towards awesome and the other one is left in the dust. But at the film’s center is a story about female friendships that are supportive and real, not destructive and solely dependent on what man is in their lives. I am excited for what the success of it says for funny women, and hopefully what it will do for the future of smart lady-driven films that are neither led by Katherine Heigl or about coming to terms with the death of a child.
Previously, I crowned Lucas (Rory Cochrane) from Empire Records King Slacker Lover. But my vault full of imaginary film boyfriends does not end with the loyal yet meddlesome Lucas. Rather, there are handfuls of male characters from influential and not so influential films that make up pieces of the perfect imaginary husband pie. Men like Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) exemplify the ruffian with a heart of gold, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom from (500) Days of Summer proved that men could have just as many crazy “girl” feelings as the objects of their desire. The ideal imaginary husband combines all the traits of the perfect boyfriend, while still offering something a little extra (and I’m not just talking about imaginary health insurance)—a sense of realism.
Gone With The Wind‘s Rhett Butler
Gone with the Wind came out in 1939 and is still considered one of the most sexually charged, scandalous and romantic films ever released. Because the film had to work within the restrictions of the Hays Code, Victor Flemming could not show more than 20% of Vivien Leigh’s (Scarlett O’Hara) skin, no on-screen sex, nor could there be more than a fleeting mention of Scarlett’s promiscuous lifestyle.
What they could show was the naughty-bit tingling chemistry between the two leads and the beginning of the end for Gable to be seen as anyone other than Rhett. Rhett is a bachelor deadset on taming the wildness of Scarlett, although she refuses to be held back. He loves her deeply and almost destructively, and the hot tempered couple battles each other to their breaking points. For those passion-hungry romantics who recite long form angsty prose in the shower, Rhett Butler is often the fantasy in those moments. His influence reaches into almost every epic genre romance.
Little Women‘s Laurie
However Rhett Butler is arguably a little “rapey,” as he often used brute force to control Scarlett. The perfect imaginary husband should never strike a woman. Moving on. Next for consideration is Laurie (Christian Bale) from 1994’s Little Women. Again we have an example of a passionate man, but this time around he provides emotional and financial support for the women he loves.
His attachment to Jo March (Winona Ryder) appears pure until his advances are rejected by his true love Jo, and he in turn sets his sights on her younger sister Amy (Samantha Mathis). She can mend his broken heart, but we are left questioning if he can truly ever love someone as much as he loved Jo. The perfect husband should be able to support his wife, but never have eyes for his first love.
Imitation of Life‘s Steve Archer
That brings us around to Steve Archer (John Gavin), Lora Meredith’s (Lana Turner) poor photographer lover from 1959’s Imitation of Life. I wanted to stop here, because for the longest time I believed Steve was the perfect romantic figure. He fell for a struggling single mother, helped kick start her career as an actress, and encouraged her to follow her dreams. Years after she leaves him for a richer, more powerful man, he comes back proving himself to be the bigger person. But instead of turning her down or seducing her teenage daughter Susie (Sandra Dee), he remains faithful to Lora as she struggles to retire from an unfulfilling career and learns to love again.
The melodramatic romantic love between the couple works so effectively due to the hot chemistry between Turner and Gavin. Every moment on screen pulls the couple closer, but unlike other melodramas the relationship is salvaged and no one dies. Steve Archer was the perfect husband–that is until I saw Bridesmaids.
Bridesmaids‘s Officer Rhodes
Considering Bridesmaids was written by two women, there is also the added bonus of realistic and sensitive male representation. These aren’t necessarily the same, but like any good memoir, our memory isn’t necessarily the perfect purveyor of truth. Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) appeals to women who want stability and support, no matter how psychotic they act or how many times they jump into bed with sexual poison Ted (Jon Hamm).
Rhodes has all the solid qualities, support and humor our previous ideal boyfriends offered, but his emotional vulnerability ups his clout. He sees the potential and lovability in Annie (Kristen Wiig), but he also calls her out when she’s hurtful or inconsiderate. He is clearly a man written by women, but O’Dowd adds a level of masculinity needed to keep him equal to Rhett Butler. He is the good guy who stands up for himself, which means he’ll stand up for those he loves too. Rhodes is an unabashed everyman, and therefore the perfect imaginary husband.
If you’re like me, you’ve looked to movies all your life as a way to size up potential relationships—platonic or romantic—and for all the excellent examples, five times as many are pure garbage. The battle between over-the-top fantasy love–passionate, irrational, and engulfing–rivals the sweetness of a manchild who couldn’t protect you from a fly let alone in a fight. Many of these male love interests are hardly well-rounded; rather they personify extremes over subtleties.