outtake / regular

The Zooey effect: from love to hate and back again

Words by Brodie Lancaster, Illustration by Chrissy Lau

When the trailer for New Girl came out around this time last year, it was the final straw. I had flipped from ‘gushing Zooey Deschanel fangirl’ to ‘exasperated feminist’ and could not see a place where the two could meet. I was tired of the forced girlishness and her character’s inability to act like a human woman. I wanted strength! And power! And a sense of humour! And cute clothes! And I didn’t want it from an emotional wreck who needed a band of hunky bros to help her out of distressing (but very common) life situations!

When my dad started watching New Girl and called me to tell me how much he loved “Zoo-ey Dez-channel,” I groaned. “She annoys me!” I told him. He didn’t care, he just wanted me to think he was cool. Which I would have, if he had told me the same thing two years ago. Because, while it’s pretty easy to be irritated by what Zooey Deschanel seems to represent, it’s almost as easy to love her.

She used to fall behind Maggie Gyllenhaal on my list of favourite actresses. What I didn’t get from her performance of Noel in David Gordon Green’s pre-Pineapple Express heart-wrencher All The Real Girls, I got from her rebellious and stubborn Anita, William Miller’s big sister in Almost Famous. I loved her when she hissed at customers as a disenfranchised chain store employee in The Good Girl, and I loved her when she helped Will Ferrell harness the singing power of Christmas in Elf. I loved She & Him’s debut album, and bought The Go-Getter on DVD purely because both she and M. Ward starred in it. I was a fan.

While I wasn’t consciously waiting for an excuse to fall off the bandwagon, I apparently got it when New Girl premiered. I didn’t need to give it a chance; I already knew I hated it! I hated what it meant for women, and women with male housemates, and women who like baking and cats! Those women are me, but I am not that woman!

I never sought the show out, and so it wasn’t until a late-night flight from Austin to New York, when the entire plane was forced to share a single screen playing one episode of New Girl, that I actually awarded it my precious time. Rather than screening an episode from the start of the season —one that was surely filled with the inevitable creative missteps that come in the early episodes of any ensemble comedy— they showed exactly the right episode I needed to convince me to give Zooey another chance.

In the episode, Nick’s new casual fling Julia — played by the incredible Lizzy Caplan — is a lawyer who’s attempting to help Deschanel’s Jess out of a traffic ticket. Julia’s exhaustion over Jess’ incessant whimsy opens up a dialogue about the show and Deschanel, in general, that actually gives the adorkable (EYEROLL) star a chance to defend her character, her show and herself:

“…I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children, and I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird and it freaks me out. And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown, and I hate your pantsuit and I wish it had ribbons on it to make it slightly cuter. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”

This speech made me feel ashamed; both that I’d judged the character on such a base level, conveniently ignoring her myriad wonderful qualities, and that I let myself be annoyed because of a lot of the character’s traits that I have myself. I’m obsessed with One Direction, for pete’s sake, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support women’s rights or rock a mean furry armpit or bake mass amounts of cupcakes to win over my workmates. Ladies are complex and sometimes silly and occasionally emotional. I just hadn’t given Jess a chance to let me see that she was all of those things.

The original title for this article was ‘WTF Happened, Zooey Deschanel?!’, but deciding that an actress — one who’s found a way to be successful, in part by intertwining parts of her own personality with that of her latest character — has done something wrong or bad is dumb and I’m ashamed to have done it. The entire first season of New Girl just got me through a vicious 48-hour stomach infection and I was so glad to have the silly, infectious, strong Deschanel energy there to comfort me in between hasty trips to the bathroom.

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