Never Had I Ever: An Oscar Isaac Interlude
A look back at the song 'Never Had' from the 2011 film, 10 Years, written and performed by fellow Triple Frontier hunk, Oscar Isaac.
Hello and welcome to Hyperfixate! This is a weekly newsletter that publishes every Wednesday on things I have not been able to get out of my head. Now, let’s get down to brass tacks.
Recently, I’ve been having a lot of flashes to obscure high school memories. Nothing major of note, just small details like where I sat on the stairs when a girl got possessed (allegedly) during her maths exam, or how much money (Rp. 5,000) my history teacher owed to my crush’s older sister for buying a small tub of durian ice cream on the way to a Model UN competition in Bandung.
I haven’t thought about high school in quite some time. However, being sequestered in my teenage bedroom as of the last year, and who knows for how much longer given the state of this pandemic, has given me a bit of time to reflect. Despite the turmoil and mental anguish academic achievement drove me to, I had a pretty great time. I was really lucky in that my friends were the reason I had such a great time. It hit me the other day that we’re equidistant from the year we graduated and our ten-year reunion. Isn’t that insane?
I don’t remember much of high school other than those tidbits, but I have been actively trying to remember the films I used to watch after school. I remember coming home one day to my mother on the couch, engrossed in a film starring Channing Tatum. It wasn’t Magic Mike, she would never get caught watching that, unlike myself, but it was Jamie Linden’s directorial debut 10 Years (2011).
The film follows a group of friends as they attend their high school’s 10-year reunion, their night melting into awkward interactions, drunken shenanigans, and emotional revelations. Though the ensemble cast may have caught my eye, led by Tatum and featuring the likes of Jenna Dewan, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, and Max Minghella of The Social Network fame; one performer held my attention hostage. A fella that goes by Oscar Isaac.
Pedro Pascal is going to have to take a backseat this week, as his best friend and fellow Triple Frontier hottie has invaded a sizable chunk of real estate within my prefrontal cortex. Oscar Isaac’s performance is what I remember the most about this film. He plays successful singer-songwriter Reeves, whose hit single and fame attracted some unwanted attention from former classmates. His friends, the main ensemble, are virtually indifferent but supportive of Reeves’ success. It’s actually quite funny to see how being even in proximity to ‘fame’ or the perceived value of someone else’s social currency turns people (Reeves’ classmates) into quivering mounds of human jello.
Reeves’ friends don’t see him for most of the night as he dedicates the majority of his time to reconnecting with Elise (Kate Mara), a girl from his old Physics class. They reminisce, try and search for her in a display of old photos and only find one where she’s wearing a pair of funny yellow shoes in the background of someone else’s picture.
There’s a scene in particular that I absolutely cannot stop thinking about, and it’s the scene that made me want to seek this film out again in the first place. It’s set in a dingy karaoke bar, and an obnoxiously drunken Cully (Crisp Rat) finds Reeves’ hit single ‘Never Had’ on the machine. The whole bar hounds Reeves to get on stage, and he caves, more so because Elise had never heard the song before. The song starts, but it doesn’t feel right to him. He asks the bartender for a guitar they keep in the back and performs an impromptu concert for his high school class.
He plucks the intro to Never Had, the entire room coming to a wistful standstill. For most of the song, he sings to Elise. As she becomes increasingly flustered and enraptured by him, Reeves seals the deal with a lyric about his muse’s “funny yellow shoes”, revealing that his hit single was in fact about Elise this entire time. It’s a sweet moment amidst a mish-mash of different rom-com storylines; redemption for the couple that never was, and concrete reassurance that the other person feels the same way about you. The best they never had, as the song goes. This moment in the film pretty much confirmed my suspicions that I’ve been a hopeless romantic this entire time, and that I, too, would like Oscar Isaac to only look my way when he’s singing to me. Oh, to be Elvira Lind, who probably experiences this on the daily.
10 Years showcased not only Isaac’s singing and guitar playing chops prior to Inside Llewyn Davis, but also his ability as a songwriter. He co-wrote Never Had for the film with his pal Alan Doyle. He’s performed the song outside of the film as well, including this duet with Kate Mara that I am completely obsessed with and a 2020 rendition on a charity live stream where his voice just sounds like the most illustrious velvet you’ve ever gotten your hands on.
I’ve never really been fond of the word ‘crooning’, but listening to Oscar Thee Isaac perform his ten-year-old song that people still know, love, and remember fondly has truly been a visceral experience that that word has taken on. The song is easy, warm, and all-encompassing. I think the best kind of music is the kind that can make you feel something you haven’t been able to admit to yourself. Never Had is an admission of want, even if that want exists in the past.
The actual lyric goes “through the good times and the bad / you were the best I never had / the only chance I wish I had to take”; the Spectre of Regret following Reeves around even when that wanting wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. It’s not the best song in the world, but I think the nostalgia of it is what I find comforting; how it exists in the same vein of Taylor Swift writing Today Was A Fairytale for Valentine’s Day (2010) or how Keira Knightley’s version of Lost Stars in Begin Again (2013) has completely and unlawfully been under the shadow of Adam Levine’s version.
I have listened to this version of Never Had on a constant loop as I am writing this. It’s beautiful and I wish I had it on the streaming service of my choice simply for convenience.
I don’t think that song nor the scene within the film reminds me of any lost loves from high school, more so that it reminds me of the idea of that kind of love and the notions I’ve grown up to believe about it. I’m not thinking about the people I had crushes on in high school listening to Never Had, I’m thinking about someone that doesn’t exist. Someone with the imaginary, serendipitous assurance of Kate Mara’s funny yellow shoes. This leads back to what I said last week about how much easier it is to “love” from afar, without any risks to take or the possibility of getting hurt, only a yearning you keep to yourself.
I’ve spent far too much time in my relatively short life wondering whether or not I’ll ever have that kind of love, or whether or not it really exists since what we’re sold in films and mass media isn’t what life is like. I’ve been lucky to have loved, and lucky to have lost, but I’m even luckier to not agonize over what my ten-year high school reunion is going to be like if it were to happen at all. Maybe Oscar Isaac’ll show up. Who knows? Who’s to say? This is me extending an open invitation to him. I’m sure my former classmates wouldn’t mind.
John Tucker Might Die
I also haven’t been able to stop thinking about the 2006 classic John Tucker Must Die. I first saw this film in primary school, on a channel called MBC3 known to broadcast English-language films across Kuwait where I grew up, and its neighbouring regions. Brittany Snow, who I knew then as the girl from Prom Night (2007), plays the invisible Kate, as she somehow gets roped into exacting revenge on a three-timing popular boy, the titular John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe), alongside overachiever Carrie (Arielle Kebbel), cheerleader Heather (Ashanti), and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush).
On my podcast, A Drip Town Lemory Mane, this week, my best friend Stephanie and I have an absolute ball analyzing this wonderful film, its effervescent 2000s fashion choices, and a little bit of Todd McGowan’s 2016 book Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets.
Movies should be fun. Let’s have some fun.
In Oscar News
Another subject I am also passionate about are images of Oscar Isaac. This is a man with zero social media presence, but a vice grip over his stans. That’s what you call real power. Over the past week, the rest of my Twitter Timeline and I were left to deal with these three images: one of Oscar in the upcoming Dune remake, a behind-the-scenes photo from the set of his current HBO project, Scenes from a Marriage, and another of him in a yellow t-shirt standing in his kitchen.
In all three images, he rocks his signature salt-and-pepper do, with stunning and strong facial hair to match. In his kitchen, he wears his hair in a tiny bun and stole his wife’s funny yellow sandals. It is truly exquisite. Josh Brolin looks like he’s ready to risk it all for Oscar on the set of Dune, and I do not blame him. In fact, I find it incredibly relatable. Sitting in the car with his on-screen mother for Scenes from a Marriage, Isaac dons a pair of tiny spectacles. You could almost call them reading glasses. His tweed jacket makes him look like the university lecturer that would reply ‘so true bestie’ to your email explaining why you were unable to make it to class today, but also the lecturer you’d never miss a hand-in for. I, for one, would never turn in a paper late to that man’s class. I am a respectable woman. And a very good student.