I really like Lena Dunham’s “Girls.”
But her boys . . .
Well, her boys kind of scare me.
Dunham’s TV series “Girls” landed on HBO last month with the sort of buzz usually reserved for Martin Scorsese films or superhero franchises. The sort of buzz and attention — and even controversy — typically reserved for men, not girls.
Especially not girls like Lena Dunham.
Our Hollywood “it” girls tend to come more pin-up ready. They’re usually absurdly shiny women with perfectly symmetrical faces and upcoming roles in “Transformers” movies.
But Lena Dunham’s “it” is her brain. Lovely though she is, she’s smart and funny above everything else. At 26, she’s already written and directed her own critically acclaimed film, 2010’s “Tiny Furniture.” And she does everything on “Girls.” Writes, directs, stars. It’s all hers, and it’s really good. It’s funny and insightful and true-feeling.
Mostly true-feeling . . . Every week I find myself wincing over the show’s male characters.
The boys on “Girls” are terrible.
If you throw in the boys from “Tiny Furniture,” which feels like a feature-length pilot for “Girls,” the situation gets even worse.
Dunham’s male characters aren’t the last guys you’d want your daughter to bring home; they’re not that dramatic. They’re more like the guys that you worry your daughter (or your sister or your best friend) will get stuck with along the way.
They’re swamp-like creatures who don’t seem to care about anything but themselves — and sex, of course, but only as it relates to themselves.
In “Tiny Furniture,” the guys that Dunham’s character, a college-educated writer, is interested in using her for a place to stay, for prescription drugs and for bleak, barely interested sex.
In “Girls,” her character’s boyfriend would never admit to being her boyfriend. He doesn’t initiate any contact, he won’t return her text messages, and when they end up in bed, he makes sort-of-playful/but-mostly-bored comments about her weight.
Sex is a major theme in “Girls” — the sex scenes are plentiful and explicit — but they’re practically a PSA for celibacy. Sex, according to “Girls,” is joyless and uncomfortable, leads to genital warts and unwanted pregnancies, and is something that girls do for boys.
For no-good, selfish, cold, cruel, terrible boys.
The only nice guy on “Girls” is ridiculed for his sensitivity; his disgusted girlfriend tells him to be a man, and her best friend refers to his female anatomy.
The show has Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) as an executive producer, and it seems to take place in the same cynical universe as some of his movies — a place where there’s no such thing as a good guy, just varying degrees of jerk.
I hate that this has become the default way to portray young men in smart comedies. (Unless Michael Cera shows up.) It’s the song our culture sings about young men: All want, no feel. No good intentions, no focus. Useless. Users. Porn-glazed lumps.
It’s not true, you know.
Obviously I’m not the voice of the 20-something male. Or the 20-something female, for that matter. But I can’t believe that young guys have devolved that much in 15 years.
I’m sure there are plenty of jerks out there, more than enough to go around. But most guys aren’t that much different from most girls. They want to connect, they want to be good — and our culture increasingly tells them not to bother.
I usually suspect that these creepy fictional guy characters are created by real creepy guys who want to justify their own behavior. “It’s okay that I’m a creep, all guys are creeps, you should be glad I’m not the worst creep. I’m the best guy who could have gotten you pregnant after that one-night stand, so congratulations.”
And I worry that the profusion of these characters in movies and TV normalizes that behavior. I don’t think guys totally buy into it — I hope good guys know they’re good and shrug this stuff off . . .
Young girls, however, don’t know anything about boys. My friends and I based our understanding of men on Ricky Schroder characters and Cosmo articles that we read in supermarket check-out lines.
I hate to think that young girls today will watch “Girls” (and 800 other popular comedies) and believe that’s all that’s out there for them.
Because it’s not like this depressing conclusion will make girls lose interest in boys. If you tell girls “all guys are lowlifes,” they’re not going to swear off guys; they’re just going to figure they have to settle for a lowlife.
If girls go out into the world expecting guys to be jerks, that’s all they’ll find there.
Now, I’m not saying with this little rant that Lena Dunham needs to write nicer guys — or happier sex scenes on “Girls.” She has her own story, her own truth, and that undistilled, singular perspective is what makes her show special.
But Dunham’s truth isn’t the truth.
And I hope that girls in the audience can sort that out.
Contact the writer: