For the first hour at least, The Gift – actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut that hits cinemas this week – is a gripping enough psychological thriller, centred around the familiar idea of an attractive young couple being terrorised by a unhinged figure from their past.
In this case it is ‘Gordo’, an old school friend of Jason Bateman’s smooth, successful businessman Simon, whose creepy attempts to befriend him and his too-trusting wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) gives the film its name.
‘Gordo’ – played by Edgerton himself – is a classic socially awkward, vaguely unsettling movie weirdo, pitched somewhere between Robin Williams in One Hour Photo and Jim Carrey in (unfairly maligned, in my humble opinion) The Cable Guy.
It is always interesting, I think, to look at how characters such as Gordo are dressed and styled. They are, in essence, bogeymen of the real world, their effectiveness hingeing on their plausibility. How they look must be, to some extent, a mirror of what we distrust – fairly or unfairly – in the people we see in everyday life. (For Williams, oddly bleached hair. For Carrey it was a speech impediment.)
And what, in 2015, was chosen as Gordo’s defining characteristic? The first thing you notice when he appears up on screen, the thing that screams ‘do not trust this guy’ at the top of its voice? A goatee.
The goatee, lest we forget, was once the facial hair à la mode. Now, in Gordo, it faces its nadir. The neat tache-and-chin whisker combo that lent heroes as diverse as Brad Pitt, Kurt Cobain and Roberto Baggio a certain insouciant panache in the 1990s is now officially shorthand for the creepy loser.
Styles in all things come and go, of course. But I can’t recall such a dramatic reversal in fortune for anything – besides perhaps cider, which inside a similar period has gone from something only imbibed by tramps slouched against alleyways shouting at pigeons to the sponsor of cool music festivals and general good summer vibes.
The goatee, of course, can blame nothing so pernicious as canny corporate marketing. Its demise from the faces of the coolest men in the planet to the most pathetic has been altogether more organic, though thinking about it, there does appear to have been one significant turning point in its fate.
Ricky Gervais’s sitcom The Office aired in 2001 and, among its many other achievements, gave us a new touchstone for the male loser: David Brent.
Brent was overweight and badly dressed, but his defining physical characteristic was undoubtedly the goatee. (Note it was also the first thing Gervais got rid of when he became famous and went to America. The weight went later.)
Brent probably wore the goatee precisely because, up until that point, it had been cool. But after the show became the most successful sitcom of all time, shown or remade in countries all over the world, how could any right-minded rock star, movie god or footballing legend let themselves resemble the man from Slough?
In effect, Ricky Gervais killed the goatee. A few celebrities who hadn’t quite got the memo yet – Paul Rudd being one, Colin Farrell another – dabbled with one in the early 2000s, but they were short-lived. Already, it had started to look weird.
The goatee then went underground to refine its new loser connotations – Julian in Trailer Park Boys and Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down were cult comedy losers and heirs to Brent’s face – and now, in Gordo and The Gift, we are seeing it emerge as not just the mark of a loser but a creepy loser, just about the worst thing a man can be.
Is there any way back for the goatee? Or must it now be consigned to that rare corner of unsalvageable trends, like the mullet and the top hat? No one can say for sure, but for any man who ever wheeled away after slotting one past a friend in a park yelling ‘GOO-AL BA-GGIOOO!’, the prognosis is not looking good.