“The Big Bang Theory” did Simon Helberg dirty.
Actually, that’s not true. “The Big Bang Theory” did us dirty — for convincing the whole world that Simon Helberg isn’t sexy as hell. He absolutely is.
If you’re confused about why I’m objectifying the actor who portrayed physicist Howard Wolowitz in the acclaimed sitcom, you’ve probably yet to see “Annette.” This puzzling operatic film, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as standup comedian bf/opera singer gf, features Helberg as a role simply called the Accompanist. The Accompanist plays piano in the pit for Cotillard’s star soprano character. We learn in one of the film’s droller numbers that he’s enamored with her and longs to one day be a world-renowned conductor.
But that’s all beside the point. What is the point? His utter smolder. The wild, tousled hair! Those dreamy, big blue eyes! The SCRUFF! Watching Helberg as an over-the-top, apologetic conductor is equal parts amusing and seductive. In addition to looking excellent, he delivers his lines with pitch-perfect deadpan. I will admit I saw this movie on a date — and I didn’t conceal my, um, enthusiasm for Helberg.
This isn’t a review of the film, but I’ll say this much: I had my doubts at various points, and they all vanished whenever Helberg graced the screen. I haven’t felt such an affinity for someone I can never, ever know intimately since watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “(500) Days of Summer” as a 14-year-old. (Honestly, “Annette” did me dirty by not giving Helberg enough screen time.) While he’s considerably more slight than the built, towering Driver, the juxtaposition somehow enhances both of their most masculine features, especially since they both have a mighty nose.
Simon Helberg in “Annette” is proof: Jews are sexy as hell. Yet Jewish characters — men in particular — often get shortchanged in media. They’re portrayed as neurotic nerds with no game. Fair, Helberg’s character isn’t the one who has a hilariously graphic, over-the-top opera sex scene in “Annette” — but you still know he could totally get it.
Of course, I am not surprised that there are attractive Jewish men in Hollywood — I just don’t often see them playing Jewish-coded characters. In “Ted Lasso,” for example, the hunky Roy Kent, played by Brett Goldstein, isn’t Jewish-coded. There’s no indication that Kent is Jewish, though Goldstein is. Or consider the high school sitcom “Never Have I Ever.” It juxtaposes the very hot Paxton Hall-Yoshida with the stout intellectual Ben Gross (that last name is no accident, for a number of reasons).
But this is a false dichotomy. Jews can be hot. Jews are hot — it’s just a matter of whether we highlight their hotness. While his religion is never explicitly stated in the film, I’d describe the Accompanist as Jewish-coded, both for the fact that Helberg is already frequently type-cast as a Jewish man and the stereotype that many classical musicians and conductors have been Jewish (including giants Felix Mendelssohn, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Itzhak Perlman and others).
Helberg previously portrayed the smarmy junior rabbi Scott Ginsler in “A Serious Man” (2009), and he was absolutely meant to be a sexless napkin of a character who was notably obsessed with the parking lot. How is a fundamentally sexy man made to be so unsexy?
For Wolowitz, it’s easy: the bowl cut and sideburns that gives him a schnoz and bug eyes. For Scott Ginsler, it’s the tie and short-sleeved button-down paired with shoulders carrying millennia of tension and a slicked-back hairdo that’s so tidy it’s creepy.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Howard Wolowitz. He’s charming and cute and sexy in his own way. But nobody should feel pigeonholed. No Jewish boy or man should believe that he’s destined to be a stereotype, that the best he can hope for is to be a dorky Nice Jewish Boy.
But The Accompanist? Smoldering. The greatest glow-up I’ve ever seen. If you take anything away from this essay, let it be that Jews of all kinds are sexy, and also that I will simp for Simon Helberg for days.