What Ethan Hawke Movies Taught Me About Boys

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Gen X dreamboat Troy Dyer in Reality Bites

I entered this world in 1982, which means boys have been giving me butterflies in the tummy since approximately 1993. Like many, I harbor ridiculous crushes on celebrities (and a few mid-level musicians) that will never be realized. I know it’ll never happen IRL, but that’s ok. It’s not really about that; it’s that I enjoy getting wrapped up in the romantic fantasy of it all. Besides, it’s fun to feel all giggly when your “love” comes on the screen. In my 19 years of crushin’ hard, one man has always made my top ten list: Mr. Ethan Hawke. I stole a cassette copy of the Reality Bites soundtrack from my older sister, took one look at his perfectly tousled hair and I was hooked. See, Ethan Hawke is what I call “'90s hot”-- a distinct level of hotness appreciated and adored specifically by those who really dug My So-Called Life and 120 Minutes. Remarkably, this Oscar-nominated actor still manages to keep that look alive. As audiences gear up for Hawke’s latest venture thriller Getaway with Selena Gomez, I’ll reveal what Ethan Hawke has taught me about boys.

Mystery Date (1991)

Here Ethan Hawke plays Tom McHugh, a shy boy with a big crush on his neighbor’s hot, blonde house-sitter, Geena. Tom dreams of making a move on Geena, but feels he lacks the panache to really make an impression. His hotshot older brother Craig shows up from California to give him a credit card, a car and ample dating advice, and Tom snags a date. Before too long, Tom is mistaken for Craig, ends up involved in a myriad of crimes and shows Geena a date she’ll never forget. This is how dating is supposed to be, risky and raucous and full of adventure. Tom’s ultimate desire to impress Geena impressed me. Ethan taught me that when a boy really likes a girl, she knows it. Which also means the opposite is true, as was later re-confirmed by Greg Behrendt’s page-turner He’s Just Not That Into You. If he is not into you, he won’t be making any grand gestures, there won’t be any car chases or anything, there will just be a lot of flat conversation and maybe some unreturned texts. It is also refreshing to learn that boys get just as nervous as girls do about dates, maybe even more so. A boy who wants to impress a gal will go to painstaking lengths (potentially including cutting his hair and wearing phony glasses to appear intelligent) and likely won’t mind the trouble. It's a relief to know I’m not the only Nervous Nelly out there. (Trivia: Gwar makes an appearance in this film.)

 Dead Poets Society (1989)

When Walt Whitman-obsessed English teacher Mr. Keating brings his unorthodox teaching methods to the prestigious Whelton Academy, the conservative boys in his class get an awakening they weren’t anticipating. Ethan Hawke plays Todd Anderson, a shy but smart student. With Mr. Keating’s coaching and encouragement, Todd looks within himself and realizes that he, too, is a poet. Ethan taught me that boys are full of feelings, real, deep ones too, but it may require some coaxing to get them out in the open. That’s right; they aren’t rigid, reticent, unfeeling balls of masculinity. They have tangible emotions too! Even the most stoic still contain some amount of passion. What’s important to know is that not all people express themselves in the same way. People require patience and discovery. Boys, like girls, are complex creatures. It’s simply about finding out how best to communicate. Ah-ha!


 Gattica (1997)

In this future eugenics-obsessed society, it’s not just who you are, but how you’re made. Unfortunately for Ethan’s character Vincent, he’s all natural, 100% unadulterated human; his parents had him the old fashioned way. This fact limits him in numerous ways: he’s more prone to disease, has a life expectancy of only 30.2 years, is prohibited from pursuing his dream of becoming an astronaut, and is considered an “invalid.” Cunning as he his, Vincent assumes the identity of Eugene Morrow, a genetically perfect “valid,” who’s a champion swimmer and all around good guy, becomes Gattica’s top celestial navigator, and falls in love with Irene, a “valid” who feels inferior. Ethan taught her (and me) that genetics do not make the man (or woman); it’s who you are, not how you’re made. He also showed me that remaining true to yourself is paramount, no matter what society’s norms dictate, and a man who is confident in his talents and abilities will absolutely not be stopped. Even in the face of judgement or danger, a strong-willed man will do anything it takes to achieve his goals. I also learned that there is nothing sexier than a man fighting against the system for what he believes.

 Before Sunrise (1995)

The plot is too romantically perfect: a pair of college-age strangers meet on a Eurail train by happenstance. He’s a babe, she’s a babe, it's all systems go. When the train pulls into Vienna, the two decide to disembark together and go for a 24-hour no-holds-barred Viennese adventure. They know their time together is limited, but they decide to throw caution to the wind and go for it anyways. They open up to one another, the way you can only do when you are instantly madly in love but also know you may never see the other person again. They discuss, life, love, and what got them both on that train and eventually (it is implied) they get to know each other biblically. The idea that two strangers would meet accidentally and then decide to explore the relationship anyway despite logic or what will happen later is intoxicating, especially to a impressionable, starry-eyed girl. Ethan taught me that spontaneity in boys is underrated, way underrated. It’s the men who take risks and carpe diem, as it were, who are the most captivating. I finally recognized the beautiful glory of a handsome man who acts like a true gentleman and that chivalry, the act of not coming on too strong, being courteous, respectful, and generally not a total jerk, is not dead. I also learned that a man’s genuine kindness and curiosity are gifts that should not be overlooked or dismissed but devoured, cherished and repaid accordingly.

 Reality Bites (1994)

This quintessential Gen X romantic comedy-drama brings us young Ethan Hawke as Troy Dyer, a coffee shop guitarist with no real direction in life. Troy’s brooding, sarcastic, pessimism rings out like an anthem for all the disaffected '90s youth. He’s a handsome underachiever hopelessly in love with his ambitious, unpretentious best friend Lelaina. Though Troy may not fully recognize his own self-worth, he sees greatness in Lelaina and does everything he can to encourage it. He’s young and full of fire, just what every girl wants (well, what this girl thinks she wants, anyways). Ethan taught me that when a guy gives you a really hard time it is probably because he likes you...probably a lot. It’s what my dad refers to as “pulling your pigtails.” I also learned that a quality man isn’t intimidated by a strong female and that often our greatest loves are born from our best friendships. But perhaps most importantly, Ethan taught me that a sexy haircut and aloof attitude (with just the right amount of sweetness in his smirk) is a one-way ticket to my heart. Swoon.


I’m sure I still have a long way to go when it comes to really understanding boys, but, with Ethan Hawke as my guide, at least I’m on the right track.