Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Better Late Than Never

"That's my boyfriend," I announced, pointing at the actor on the TV screen.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman is your boyfriend?" my friend laughed, incredulous.

The implication, unspoken, was that Hoffman was a weird choice. Unattractive. I don't remember what I said in response, but I don't think I defended him articulately.

Who was the friend? I can't remember, except I know it was a guy. What was the movie, even? Probably The Big Lebowski; there was a time there when it felt like I watched that film every five minutes, and even with Hoffman's small part, his presence was one of my favorite things about it. I loved his nervous laughter, his bared teeth, the way he pronounced the word "Dude."

Like a lot of people, I have felt surprised at how much his death has upset me. I had all these immediate, ridiculous reactions, such as, "But I never knew that he struggled with addiction!" and "But I never got to write anything for him!" One of my dear college friends, a longtime New Yorker, knew where he bought his coffee, but even though my parents lived in the city, I lived 3,000 miles away: Hoffman was not in my life on the boyfriend nor coffee-level, not even in 2007, during the height of my love. (The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and Charlie Wilson's War - every five minutes that year, he was brilliant in a completely different way). And I don't really have anything to add to the conversation about his great work or heroin addiction. But I do have something to say about his appearance.

I've read a lot of articles about him this past week, and even in some of the ones I've liked the most, such as Anthony Lane's tribute, I'm struck by how often the writers claim that Hoffman was unattractive. It's often presented as a qualification, an acknowledgment before moving on to his range or the humanity he brought to even the smallest roles: "He wasn't a handsome actor, but..." Lane, for instance, uses the word "unbeautiful." I know he just means "not George Clooney," "not Tom Cruise" when he writes that - not cast in romantic, hero roles. But still.

I'm here to argue with the central claim. He was beautiful. He was handsome. He was cute. It's a late defense, but I wanted to say it. (Even if it's not a thing that needs a name).

And I know I'm not alone. I know I'm not the only person who pointed at him on a screen and declared him mine, or who thrilled to see him on lists like this one. I originally read the 2007 New York magazine "Reasons to Love New York" list in my parents' living room in Forest Hills, and I remember how the period after each part of his name felt like a declaration of the self-evident. Of course he's in the top 5 reasons, that punctuation seemed to say.   

So maybe I shouldn't be surprised at how I, and so many of us, were so sad. Of course I miss him. Of course we miss him.