Brooklyn Decker Lightens the Burden of Living in This World
Outside her apartment, on the cold and dusky streets down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, Brooklyn Decker, wrapped up just a bit too tight against the wind, gives a weak, unconvinced handshake. It has the feel of a first handshake, the kind you give early in your handshaking life, when you can’t figure why anyone would want to meet you. When we start walking the tilt of the hill down to the high-end grocery store near her place, she widens her eyes, so blue they seem backlit, and admits, “I’m not sure what you can say about me yet.”
Maybe it’s just the time and place, some play on the obvious trope. Like Brooklyn in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Decker lives inside her name. So much Brooklyn.
“Yeah, yeah,” she says. She’s heard it before. I can do better than that, I tell her. I don’t want to disappoint. Just give me some time. Half a block later, we’re at the market. The scale of Brooklyn surprises. She is so tall, for starters.
The starter is a salad. That’s the only starter Brooklyn makes. Green-leaf lettuce, avocados cut up like pats of butter, ground pepper, and dressing pulled mysteriously from her refrigerator. She whisks it from the door and back again.
To the doorway and back again, while cooking, for an adjustment to the lights. When Brooklyn Decker walks toward you, the world feels a little bit of all right. She brings promise with her. Light of heart and unexpectant, she gives the impression that being present is easy, that passing time talking with a man she doesn’t know is exactly what she wants to do on a Friday night in New York. She makes her little salad. What do I like? What do I not like? She even seems a little curious about my preferences. I’m cool with whatever, I say. I can handle anything she dishes up. But Brooklyn doesn’t cook like that. She doesn’t want to disappoint. She just wants me to like it. There is no protest or resistance in her voice. It’s just something she can do.
She cannot cook, she says, but she’s learning. This chicken thing, with its components handpicked at her grocery store — two organic breasts, five slices of prosciutto, two avocados not yet collapsed in ripeness, a nameless jar of spice — is her one thing, her one dinner. There’s no apology or excuse. She’d made an offer: this in lieu of a restaurant. She knows this one thing, one reliable ritual of assembly, leaving her free to stand and cook for a guest who sits schlumped on the other side of her kitchen island. This is so she can offer wine, tend to her guest without apology for the things she can’t do.
One thing she can’t do: She can’t explain how she got here, not clearly. The story of her childhood in North Carolina comes and goes — What does she miss? “Just my friends.” UNC or Duke? “It could have gone either way, but it can never go the other way. I’m a Tar Heel, pretty randomly.” Answers lost, threads dropped what with all the chopping, the tenderizing. Her mother named her after a horse. “I love the name,” she says. “Brook. Next time we meet, you’ll call me Brook. Almost everyone does.” The next time. Hah. Beauty always promises a return. The young always assume they’ll see you again.
The young. At twenty-two she married Andy Roddick, the only appealing American tennis player with gonads. Young, right? She was then merely a swimsuit model and may in fact be only that now: known for her frame, for her confident carriage in body paint, for the slope of the back of her legs, for eyes that issue the command Get over here. And the breasts, ah, yes, always the breasts. It’d be foolish, and a little dishonest, to mention her history of swimsuit modeling, to allude to the Sports Illustrated cover and to the myriad catalogs of her image on the Internet without mentioning her breasts. They are not much evident tonight, here in the kitchen. She plays smaller in her own space, in a sweater and jeans like a lonely college girl, the kind who keeps her body a secret. But there they are. Have a look. She does not mind — she can’t. Fill in your own simile. Just don’t make her less than her whole in so doing.
Brooklyn Decker’s sum of the whole of Brooklyn Decker? So far there’s very little, nothing lasting. Photo shoots don’t accrue in the inventory of experience; they pass by until you don’t notice them. She sees it this way: She is twenty-three, just starting out. “I feel for you,” she says. “I really do. People are going to come up to you and say, ‘What did she do for you?’ ”
“No, they won’t.”
“Oh, please! And I’m a model. Okay? What are you going to talk about?” Here she jams a piece of bread in one side of her mouth and affects a deep, slippery Scooby-Doo kind of male voice, pinching one eye, whistling the words in mock seriousness: “How does it feel to get your hair and makeup done every day? How does it feel to be Photoshopped?”
It’s supposed to be me, or Jimmy Cagney playing me.
“It’s difficult for you,” she says, plucking an avocado from the grocery bag. We are early in the evening here — not one leaf of lettuce has been broken, not an onion chopped. “I’m not a politician. I’m a model. I’m not sure what I bring to the table for you.”
“First off, you say ‘model.’ Aren’t you a model and an actress?”
She raises one shoulder in an incomprehensibly loose, over-yogaed shrug.
“Well, come on. How cheesy does that sound? I can’t say ‘actress’ unless someone says I’m halfway decent at it.”
Having just come from the screening of her new movie, the Adam Sandler phone-it-in wonder Just Go with It, I can declare this: “You are halfway decent at it.” I’m not lying, either. Exactly halfway, at this point.
And here, let me say: When a beautiful woman thanks you, voice all low with modest surprise and whispering tonal modulation, it gets a man past a lot of impossibility. For a minute, it seems as though she might really value the sentiment, which ups the ante on whatever is said next. What I do is I start talking — explaining and over-explaining what I thought of the rough cut of the film I just saw, as if my opinion mattered. About there, Brooklyn Decker starts the cutting of the avocado. She listens.
“The problem is, your character is likable and the people in the movie treat her in the most unethical way. They just kind of use her.”
Brooklyn looks right at me then. She can establish — and hold — a gaze without much effort. “So you hurt for her then?”
Not exactly. She was being conned. But I find myself nodding. My obligations to her beauty have become overwhelming. “Yeah.”
“That means I did a good job, right?”
“Good job” is something you tell a kid at soccer practice. And rhetorical questions, asked by a woman whose hair is the kind of blond that feels like the mother of everything blond, are generally not worth answering. But yes, good job, for what that’s worth. She plays a teacher, one who inexplicably dresses like a schoolgirl and somehow falls for Sandler’s muttering, closed-down, early-forties resignation routine. Brooklyn Decker: funny, unobligated, young. Right in there amongst Aniston, Kidman, and Sandler, each desperately tit-twisting the hell out of every laugh, Decker plays an honest-to-God clueless straight man. It’s a kind of good job, for sure. A first step, anyway. Add to that the fact that toward the end of the movie, she walks up out of the surf, rises from the surf, a towering monolith of slow-motioned, bikinied grace. Gratuitous, sure. But that really doesn’t hurt the case: good job.