Zac Efron “looks like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory.” That’s how Seth Rogen puts it in Neighbors, when he looks out his window to see a tank top–clad Efron moving his fraternity into the house next door.
It’s true, right? The perfect body, the beautiful face, the Paul Newman-esque blue eyes. But for most of his career, Efron has been something that a teenaged girl designed in a laboratory: that same beautiful face and body, but with an equally beautiful heart.
Efron — and the characters he played, whether Troy Bolton (High School Musical), Charlie St. Cloud (Charlie St. Cloud), or Logan Thibault (The Lucky One) — were sensitive pieces of man meat who really just wanted to respect, cherish, and maybe, just maybe (and totally only when you’re ready!), have a single kiss and/or very lovingly take your clothes off.
Efron wasn’t the first to blend the beautiful face and generous heart — that’s provenance of the matinee idol, whose lineage goes all the way back to Wallace Reid and Rudolph Valentino. But Efron’s career struggles are the result of the impossible contradictions of total masculinity and total sensitivity we ask of our aging teen idols. There’s a reason that so many of them “bro out,” sometimes fatally.
There’s an impossible ideal set out for female stars — it’s constantly discussed, whether in memory of Marilyn or in reference to Britney. Male stars supposedly have it easier: They get to play sexy for longer; they get good, meaty roles well into their sixties, and since teenage boy tastes run Hollywood, they get roles that rotate around them and their interests.
In reality, though, Hollywood’s only actually good to male stars who can play a very certain type of hetero hero. That hero is also straight, virile, and designed, above all, to be someone whom 1) men want to be and 2) women want to have sex with. Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Brad Pitt — the only way you can get around that imperative is to be funny, in which case you can be someone, like Will Ferrell, whom men want to be friends with and women find adorable.
Zac Efron Bros Down To Grow Up