Patrick Dempsey works really hard for love. He’s gone from nerd to stud to nerd again; he’s fought a dragon. He’s died just as he’s gotten the dream (doctor wife, three kids, perfect house). He’s gotten into some weird sexual situations with sisters; he’s even been stabbed a few times. As a professional leading man he’s suffered a lifetime’s worth of romantic humiliations: He’s pratfalled, cheeseballed, made grand gestures and declarations of love in front of crowds. Sometimes he doesn’t get the girl, but even then it’s because he makes too much sense for the girl. And his hair is always perfect. What a grueling existence.
But that’s just what Patrick Dempsey does. Patrick Dempsey has spent nearly 20 years helping cynical people believe in love again, no matter how dopey-eyed or melodramatic he has to be to get us there. Patrick Dempsey will show up in Bridget Jones’s Baby, even when Hugh Grant won’t, because he does not back down from a challenge, an intense locked gaze, or a tendril of hair that needs to be gently tucked behind your ear as a romantic ballad swells in the background. That’s why Patrick Dempsey is the best damn rom-com leading man we have.
Now is when people come forward with their personal nominations for this category. I’m not really taking nominations — I know Dempsey’s the best — but go right ahead. You’d like to suggest maybe Ryan Gosling, or James Marsden, or Matthew McConaughey, or Paul Rudd? Fine, let’s put them to the test. Here is why Patrick Dempsey is better than all of them:
1. He is committed.
Say it’s Friday night and all you want to do is split a dirty-water dog and take a horse-drawn carriage ride around Central Park while your lover gives you a clichéd speech about fairy tales and soul mates. Go on, ask Gosling if he’ll do it. No, he’ll gesture at his abs and trade you in for some quirkier indie-person who wants to ballroom dance across the Brooklyn Bridge in a porkpie hat. Marsden won’t make good on that 27 Dresses promise; he’ll suggest you go to an X-Men movie or something. Rudd won’t, either, because he’s too busy cos-playing as a human ant. And McConaughey? He’s the most hurtful of them all. Sure, he gave us How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Wedding Planner and Fool’s Gold (just stay with me), but then he became … shirtless True Detective guy. He’ll probably suggest going to Burning Man instead. His is the worst betrayal of them all.
You know who will take you? Dempsey. Because while all of those guys have gone on to do superhero franchises or “win Oscars,” Dempsey has kept on doing rom-coms so the world has a person who will definitely take them on a horse-drawn carriage ride when asked.
2. He doesn’t have a gag reflex (metaphorically speaking).
The 1987 movie Can’t Buy Me Love is probably one of the cheesiest movies of all time — even by ’80s teen rom-com standards. As a scrawny, bare-chested nerd who morphs into a smug, bolero-wearing popular guy and then back into an enlightened nerd, Dempsey is tasked with winning the popular girl’s heart, finding himself, and teaching everyone a lesson about … falling in love? Respecting nerds? Not spilling red wine on white suede? I can’t quite remember. Anyway, Can’t Buy Me Love requires Dempsey to dance like a jackass in a questionably racist African dance sequence. Lover Boy asks him to ballroom dance with Kirstie Alley as foreplay. Enchanted includes a fight with a fake dragon but somehow leaves the straight-faced horseback riding to Made of Honor. He agreed to all these activities; he wasn’t bothered. In fact, he might even have enjoyed them.
3. He’s very good-looking.
I wouldn’t describe Dempsey as hot or steamy or fuckable or anything like that, but he is absolutely the definition of movie handsome. He has everything on the checklist: perfect, immovable, black hair; perfect scruff; perfect light muscle definition; perfect chest hair, which often peeks out from the neck of his perfect T-shirt, cashmere sweater, or unbuttoned dress shirt. His looks are vaguely aristocratic (which explains, maybe, why all of his characters are rich). He’s sexy in the “I will give you 25 minutes of respectful, satisfying sex with maximum two position changes and time for snuggling.” What more do you want?
4. His eyes, they sparkle.
This is separate from being good-looking. Patrick Dempsey could be an ogre, but we’d never know because his sparkling eyes have cast a love spell on our society. It’s why we can’t roll our eyes at anything he does and instead think, “OK! Sure! Sing me a Hallmark card sonnet by a lake in Central Park while everyone watches. I want your gross kind of Sara Bareilles love, not Gosling on a ukulele.”
5. He’s willing to lose.
Spoilers ahead, if you can really spoil a romantic comedy based on Pride and Prejudice, but: Patrick Dempsey does not win the day in Bridget Jones’s Baby. Do you know who is not upset about this fact? Do you know who is just glad to be there for the ride, and to share in the love, and to make sure that Bridget Jones but also we, the moviegoing public, are having a nice time watching people fall in love? That’s right, it’s Patrick Dempsey. From teen rom-coms to films that affirm our current era of hot spinsterhood, Dempsey is there. And when it comes time for the eventual Nancy Meyers or equivalent septuagenarians-get-their-groove-back movie that I’m sure Dempsey will star in come 2036, he will still be there, pretending to put a glass slipper on your foot like the charming cheeseball he is.