Hard to know what to make of Edith Zimmerman’s profile of Chris Evans in GQ, “American Marvel.” A brilliant send-up of the conventions of the celebrity puff piece, or blatant flouting of journalistic integrity? “Since we’re both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date,” she writes matter-of-factly. What are we reading here?
In parts, Zimmerman sounds uncomplicatedly taken with her subject. “We both drank too much and said too much. I never opened the notebook of questions I had brought with me,” she writes, sounding all confessional-blog-post. She tells the story of her tipsy first interview, Evans’ impulsive decision to invite her to a private party, his embarrassing her in front of his parents. The story seems to be about how she totally almost made out with the guy who plays Captain America. From the opening paragraph, it’s structured to create suspense over the question: did they or didn’t they?
But it’s also pretty obvious that Zimmerman knows what she’s doing. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind that something might happen (and that we’d go to the Oscars and get married and have babies forever until we died?),” she writes with perfect self-mockery.
She’s also trying to figure out to what degree she’s being had: “I couldn’t quite figure out if he was a goofy, warm, regular dude or just playing the character of goofy, warm, regular dude in order to charm a female reporter.”
And, somewhat hidden in the thicket of self-criticism and swooning, there are both a) workaday, serviceable reporting that fills in background, etc. and b) not at all complimentary psychological observations. An example of the second: “…I wondered whether this whole conversation was a kind of test for him, to see if he could be both the regular dude from Boston and the famous movie star from Captain America at the same time….”
There are also lots of details that, upon reflection, don’t look particularly flattering. He’s wearing a t-shirt and a backwards baseball cap. He makes a jerking-off gesture when he runs out of things to say. He makes fun of Zimmerman in front of his mother. (His mother!)
But if these details undermine Evans, they do so pretty quietly. And although she records these details and shares them (in a way, mercilessly), Zimmerman’s also not afraid to implicate herself—they shared a favorite childhood radio station, Jam’n 94.5, which is not at all a cool thing to admit. Read this way, all that talk about being smitten seems like self-mockery setting up Evans as even less attractive.
"What is this? It belongs in Teen Vogue. The girl just wrote about herself," wrote commenter ChetAtkins. But really, there’s a lot more here than ChetAtkins admits. For one thing, it’s not particularly easy to write something that’s this fun to read, no matter the subject. For another, it’s pretty brave to cop to all of this as a (young) journalist—mismanaging interviews, getting drunk, sleeping over the subject’s house. It would be much easier, in fact, to gloss over all that stuff and present a straightforward picture of a a somewhat dull, intermittently self-aware hunk.
Point is, if it were Janet Malcolm, the piece would fret over the complicated betrayals involved by necessity in the subject-journalist relationship. Vanessa Grigoriadis would have let him hang himself with his own quotes, without commentary. Instead, by appearing careless and uncertain, Zimmerman charmingly undercuts her own authority. But it’s still a hit job.