The Year I Learned to Love Zooey Deschanel (and Hate Myself Instead)

Kevin Nguyen details his tenuous relationship with indie-savvy actress Zooey Deschanel, whom he’s never met.


When The New Girl premiered, I went on and on about how much I disliked Zooey Deschanel. Her character was supposed to be ugly, which felt dishonest; her twee-ness was cloying, even in 20-minute doses. I told everyone to watch The New Girl just so they could understand what I was complaining about. But it turns out my indignation toward Zooey Deschanel had more to do with me than her.

Let’s start with the moment I think Zooey Deschanel became overexposed: (500) Days of Summer, a film that people seem to love or hate. (500) Days has a lot of things I like — a playfully unconventional structure, a quirky but unpretentious tone, aspirations to be a modern Annie Hall — but it didn’t really work for me. As much as I enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt beaming earnestly for two hours, I loathed the sight of Zooey Deschanel, who in turn, offered nothing by staring back blankly with her big blue eyes. Her character was a non-character, devoid of personality or charm. She instead represented the hipster ideal of the perfect woman, meaning she had sharp bangs and listened to the Smiths. A New York Magazine profile called her the “Pinup of Williamsburg,” but she comes across more like a mannequin posed in the window of an Urban Outfitters. Or, as Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown put it, “a woman who only plays hollow, personality-free fantasy sex objects, and is your imaginary girlfriend.” And seriously, is it hard to meet someone who likes the Smiths?

Since that film, Zooey’s faux indie chic has multiplied exponentially. She married Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie; her musical side project with M. Ward, She & Him, hit mainstream radio; she started a mega-popular Tumblr called HelloGiggles, which looks like Pinterest if it was run by CollegeHumor; and of course, there’s The New Girl, where Zooey plays that same character from (500) Days with an added element of what FOX advertised as “adorkable.”

Even though I couldn’t stand the pilot for The New Girl, I kept watching it, week after week. And since I had repeatedly derided the show, I watched every new episode in secret.

A coworker asked me to articulate what I didn’t like about Zooey Deschanel. Was it because she was inauthentic? Bad at acting? Had a shitty blog? When I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

“You know,” this coworker said, “she seems like the kind of girl you’d like.”

This was terrifying and true. In fact, everything that I hated about (500) Days of Summer was deeply relatable. I’ve liked girls with bangs, and I’ve certainly liked girls who were into bands far less obscure than the Smiths. But what do those things tell you about a person? Most likely nothing, other than that my attraction to Zooey means I am shallower than I thought, or just as shallow as Hollywood assumes I am.

Is her indie personality authentic or just the product of deliberate marketing to suckers like me? Does it even matter? I decided I’d hated Zooey to conceal the fact that I am in love with the adorkable.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.