5 rom-com characters who are legit just joe goldberg in ‘you’
Ruin your favourite teen heartthrob below!
Zack Siler in 'She's All That' (1999)
In the pilot episode of Netflix’s stalker thriller series You the unhinged lead character Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) hides from his soon-to-be girlfriend in the shower after breaking into her apartment. Little more than a shower curtain stands between himself and Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and yet he’s barely phased by the threat of being discovered by her. In fact, he all but laughs off the level of danger he’s facing and glibly comments, “I’ve seen enough romantic comedies to know guys like me are always getting in jams like this”. It’s one of many sharp swipes the show takes against rom-com tropes that romanticise dysfunctional and disturbing behaviours as being otherwise enchanting and whimsical.
What You suggests is that in reality, the often obsessive and controlling actions of some romantic comedy characters should be taken as undeniable red flags. The things that cause Beck to give Joe the affectionate nickname of “creeper” should likely also be the things to make her reconsider their relationship, not have her swooning over him. In retrospect there’s an abundance of red flags to be found in some of the most beloved courtships of the genre, and many of them are directly called back to in You. In fact, I’d argue you could swap out any of the following rom-com leads with disturbed wrong’un Joe, and it would barely change the narrative (all gender swaps aside): these rom-com characters are Joe Goldbergs through and through.
Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) in Sleepless in Seattle
Taken out of context and the bare details of this classic rom-com are unnerving as hell. A vulnerable widower (Tom Hanks) calls a radio show to discuss how badly he misses his late wife, and hundreds of women are instantly drenched for him. One of them, a reporter named Annie, is so hot for Hanksy that she finds out where he lives and watches him and his child from afar. She then dumps her fiancé (an adorable if boring Bill Pullman) for this man she’s never met and arranges a romantic rendezvous on top of the Empire State Building with him -- a conspicuously difficult location to escape from a crazed woman. We don’t see what becomes of Annie and the hot widower she’s forced all of her romantic expectations onto, but we can only hope some serious therapy and a restraining order were involved.
Robbie Weaver (Jonah Bobo) in Crazy Stupid Love
With his relentless stalking of babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), 13-year-old Robbie is basically a Joe Goldberg-in-training. He makes numerous grand gestures to the 17-year-old woman and isn’t at all put off by any one of her rejections –- until he realises that she’s actually hot for his dad Cal (Steve Carell). At his eighth grade graduation it seems like the kid has finally turned a corner when he declares how he’s lost faith in true love and soulmates as a result. Congrats kid! Except, Cal interrupts Robbie’s healthy public epiphany by encouraging his unstable teenage son’s predilection for terrorising women by telling him to “never give up”. Great. Robbie’s graduation gift? A nude photo of the babysitter. She even gifts it to him personally with a cheeky smile that suggests she’s ecstatic about a child wanking over her image for years to come. Give it ten years and Robbie will definitely have a hiding space in his bathroom for hoarding a selection of women’s underwear, teeth and various nude polaroids, just like Joe does. Which is frankly the Crazy Stupid Love sequel we all deserve to see.
Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (Sandra Bullock) in While You Were Sleeping
Like Joe, Lucy’s determining meet cute with the handsome stranger she’s obsessed with also revolves around saving him from being killed by an oncoming train. In You this offers Joe an entry point in gaining full access to Beck via the phone she loses during her accident, and also grants him superhero status for saving her. In While You Were Sleeping, however, Lucy accidentally gains similar access to her obsession, Peter (played by Peter Gallagher, A.K.A. the hot dad from The O.C.) when his train track accident puts him in a coma and she’s mistaken for his fiancé. Naturally, Lucy decides to just play along with the facade for months and enjoys full access to his home and family before falling in love with the guy’s brother (as you do). Thankfully, Lucy chooses to fess up about the adorkable misunderstanding rather than smothering her fake-fiancé-in-a-coma before he could ruin her life and expose her -- which is exactly what Joe would have likely done in the same situation. So, that’s something.
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in Say Anything
Lloyd is unparalleled cinematic proof that when you find your “soulmate” you simply refuse to take no as an answer to any of your pleas for another date. He begins his tortured romance by stalking Diane (Ione Skye) throughout high school and then basically coerces her into agreeing to a date with him. After finding love together, her dad soon forbids Diane from seeing Lloyd -- probably because he wears a trench coat and is clearly unhealthily obsessed with his daughter. The result? He shows up outside her family home and blasts Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes at such an oppressive volume that it likely caused long-term damage to her hearing. It’s a renegade romantic address apparently intended to be fanciful and tender, but which is actually low-key aggressive. It’s similar to Joe in You assuring Beck that he simply meant to playfully “tap” a stone against her window to get her attention when he actually winds up smashing the fucking thing instead. What Lloyd and Joe deem a gentle nudge is practically a goddamn powerslam.
Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze, Jr) in She’s All That
In You, Joe’s manipulation of Beck is so effective because he systematically removes people from her life (such as Shay Mitchell’s Peach) who might stand in the way of his plan to have and control his lady forever. Dumb-but-well-meaning jock Zack takes a similar approach to wooing the preposterously named Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) in She’s All That. While his intentions for the awkward artist initially revolve around little more than him wanting to win a bet, he soon develops totally serious feelings for her, bruh, once he sees what a serious piece of ass she is when she isn’t wearing dungarees or a taco hat. At first Zack wins Laney's affections by assimilating into her weirdo art world by doing things with a hacky sack that the universe clearly wasn’t ready for in 1999. But to fully seal the deal he alienates her from her peer group by badgering her to instead become his personal fantasy of a dream woman. In the real world that’s emotional abuse and not true love, but what do I know? I’ve never made a man so crazy he streaks at graduation for me.