We all had them, those all-consuming crushes that took over our teenage lives. In our series The Objects of Our Obsession, writers explore the deeper meanings behind those fixations, and pay tribute to the people who we found totally crush-worthy.
I was a weird kid who wanted to be an adult, and my parents didn't do anything to help with this. Starting from when I was maybe 10 years old or so, I had a huge crush on 1980s- and 1990s-era Kevin Kline, a crush that probably originated from the fact that one of my parents' favorite movies was A Fish Called Wanda. Almost 10 years after it came out, my parents still loved this movie, and for reasons beyond my understanding, decided it was appropriate to watch with their 10- or 11-year-old kid—maybe they were just tired, and wanted to watch a silly movie they liked, and not think much about it, is what seems likely now. But anyway, I became obsessed with the film and made my parents watch it over and over with me, probably because I had a giant crush that I didn’t understand on Kline.
A Fish Called Wanda is a weird, maybe terrible, profoundly silly, British sex farce made by the Monty Python dudes that also randomly includes Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis. Kline plays Otto, a truly world-class sex idiot who is vaguely some kind of professional murderer but mostly spends the movie having weird, farcical sex and being bad at everything. A horrible thing I've realized in adulthood is that the quality shared by most characters I loved in the pre-online media era, is that, despite the absence of the internet, they are all still extremely online—and Kline's Otto is incredibly online. He's the "while you were partying I studied the blade" meme combined with a rose-emoji dude hitting on girls by means of incorrect Nietzsche quotes. I love him so much. Kline is brilliant in this role in the way only a really great, serious actor can be brilliant playing a very stupid person. His joy in it is actively palpable; it's like two hours of watching someone tell a joke they love telling.
This movie was the beginning of a crush on Kline that I didn’t understand was a crush, but it developed over the course of his filmography throughout the 1990s. Sometimes he was a sexually confused high school teacher and sometimes he was a dirtbag Frenchmen, but he was always a doofy, handsome goofball, whose goofiness was somehow profoundly about sex in a way that I didn’t understand at all—and still don’t, entirely, except that maybe a lot of annoying cliches about how being sexy and being good at sex have to do with not taking yourself seriously and being willing to be ridiculous may just be true. Everything Kline did had massive, capacious joy in it, this sense of bounding through the world, taking delight in everything on offer. Whether he was the villain or the love interest or the lovable nerd, he was always a Hot Dad, regardless of whether his character in any of these movies actually was a father to any children. He was the prototypical hot dad, the ur-hot dad, a hot dad before I knew what a hot dad was, before it was really a phrase that was in the culture at all.
A Hot Dad crush wasn’t at all the kind of crush you could share with your friends as a barely-teenager; there was a small list of almost-teen actors by preference for whom one could identify oneself to one’s peers, and, obviously, Kline wasn’t on that list. I watched French Kiss on an airplane when I was maybe 12; this is the rare movie in which Kline is straightforwardly the Hot Guy, but he’s hot in a way meant to appeal to 30-year-old women. I didn’t know anyone else my age who had seen it. Lots of people saw In and Out—a movie with extraordinarily questionable politics, in hindsight—and thought it was funny, but saying you had a crush on one of the male leads in it wasn't something you could tell your 12- and 13-year-old friends. I only ever talked about my formative crush on Kline once I was at the age where people use sentimentally self-deprecating remembrances of their teen crushes as a way to bond with other adults roughly their own age.
Having a crush on a hot dad when you're a kid means that, as you grow up, the crush becomes a reminder of your own mortality. Whereas more appropriately aged teen crushes have at this point grown into middle-aged sad fuckbois (The DiCaprio Effect), Kline is now genuinely old. In photos, he is so gray-haired as to edge into white-haired, and frail in a way that brings to mind the phrase “elder statesman.” The hot dad I wanted to bang as a teenager is now a granddad whom, let me be very clear, I still absolutely want to bang.
My crush on Kline has followed his entire journey from late youth to middle age to getting old; it is a reminder that time carries us inexorably forward into the next stage of life, whether or not it seems possible. In some ways, to me, Kline will always be the joyfully mercenary sex idiot in A Fish Called Wanda, throwing knives and doing pratfalls and wearing both a belt and suspenders at once in every scene. But now my crush on him is about the willingness to acknowledge how we change, and what we lose. He’s a harbinger of death, who I will always want to bang.