Jake Gyllenhaal continues his career relaunch as a female-friendly action star in this week's terrific buddy-cop drama End of Watch (read our review here). After his disastrous turn as the Prince of Persia, Gyllenhaal's star had been on the wane, but with two outstanding films in a row (counting last year's sleeper hit Source Code), the wide-eyed heartthrob is poised for a comeback. Those big, lake-blue eyes are impossible to resist, after all, and his pleasantly nonthreatening nice-Jewish-boyness is certainly an asset. But let's face it: the 31-year-old actor's secret weapon is the moody tresses that transform from role to role. But as advantageous as The Gyllenhair has been to its owner, the actor hasn't always utilized it wisely. Which Gyllenhair has helped the sad-eyed star, and which has done him wrong?
The Awkward Misfit
The Gyllenhair first made its mark in the 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko. Much like the giant-rabbit-hallucinating protagonist that its owner played in the movie, there was just something fundamentally wrong with the Darko Gyllenhair. It was strange, even spooky, and relentlessly unnerving to behold. Gyllenhaal's locks took another one for the team in the cougar romance The Good Girl, when it went quirky-scraggly to give up the spotlight to its romantic interest, a slightly modified The Rachel. In its pre-fame days, The Gyllenhair was surprisingly unvain, and even enjoyed a reputation for artsy experimentation that made it easy to love.
Gyllenhaal encountered a small bump in the road to stardom with Bubble Boy, an Adam Sandler-esque film so dumb even Adam Sandler wouldn't fart in its direction. The actor, playing a cheerful young man born without an immune system, allowed his best feature to be gussied up like a clown's church wig. Still, The Gyllenhair's participation in Bubble Boy feels less like a cynical grab at easy money than an indie darling's hair's last stab at protesting its imminent absorption into the vortex of celebrity. Next stop: the obligatory brainless blockbuster and tabloid-friendly romance (with Kirsten Dunst), both with perfectly mussed coiffure.
The Gyllenhair made its ascent into name recognizability and the platonic ideal of handsome blahness with the disaster porn The Day After Tomorrow. Hollywood specialists tossed and turned The Gyllenhair, shaping it into the kind of polished forgettability that also applied to its owner's role and performance. With The Gyllenhair just sitting there, gelled into a boring blandness that drew no attention to itself, the actor suddenly seemed neutered. His eyes grew larger, his smile toothier, his charms more sexless by the day. Gyllenhaal had finally "made it," but at the cost of the Biebering himself.
Gyllenhaal made the counterintuitive but absolutely right call in doubling down on his perceived failing heterosexuality by co-starring in the gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain. Instead of shouting his virility from the mountaintops with a forty in one hand and an assault rifle in the other, he imbued his role as the closeted Jack Twist with a slippery, crooked sex appeal based almost entirely on being secretive and deceptive. The Gyllenhair, always a good sport, gamely hid itself under a giant cowboy, but buttressed the sides of its owner's face with long, sturdy sideburns.
Gyllenhaal followed up his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback with a slew of smaller dramas that nobody saw (Proof, Rendition, Brothers) and a big ensemble thriller he got lost in (Zodiac). The Gyllenhair was apparently as frustrated as its owner's fans when the star signed on to the video game-adaptation Prince of Persia, for it outright revolted against the actor. No matter how many pecs and packs its owner cultivated on his arms and abs, The Gyllenhair sabotaged its owner's attempt at an action franchise by making him look like the world's goofiest transvestite from the neck up.
Alec Baldwinesque Head-Suit
"Your hair is your head-suit," declared Alec Baldwin as 30 Rock's high-powered exec Jack Donaghy. The Gyllenhair apparently took this message to heart (and made up with its owner) by Love and Other Drugs. In that film, it sat atop a sleazy pharmaceutical sales rep who falls in love with an artist with Parkinson's disease (Anne Hathaway). Shorn close to the actor's head, The Gyllenhair is sleek and refreshingly professional -- just roguish enough to warn you about falling for those twinkling baby blues. Jake Gyllenhaal often needs help distinguishing himself from a kewpie doll come to life, and on its most cooperative days, it's his hair that best provides him with this invaluable service by rescuing the actor from his own overwhelming adorability.
For all its seductiveness and versatility, The Gyllenhair is surprisingly most useful when it's gone. In fact, Gyllenhaal might be a kind of reverse-Samson; he seems most on top his game, or at least chooses the best scripts (Source Code, End of Watch), when he's parted from his mane. Brokeback Mountain and Love and Other Drugs proved The Gyllenhair could transform the actor into a loveable liar and cad, while its outings atop men in uniform in Source Code and End of Watch adulterate the cloying sweetness its owner can sometimes exude. Let's hope the star doesn't get a wild hair to grow out his locks again anytime soon; his career might not survive it.