"What a good boy!" you can hear collective Oscar viewers coo when a hot single guy like Bradley Cooper or Ryan Gosling proudly and publicly escorts his mom as his Oscar date. And guess what? That's exactly what he and his team of spin doctors want you to think.
Leonardo DiCaprio, 39, had his devoted mom, Irmelin DiCaprio, by his side when he took home his Golden Globe for The Wolf of Wall Street in January (and it's predicted she also will be his Oscar date), making him appear the wholesome, dutiful son that the more naive viewing audience wants him to be.
Except when he isn't.
DiCaprio, 39, has a penchant for supermodel dating (he currently is reported to be with 21-year-old Victoria's Secret mannequin Toni Garrn … or is he with Max George's girlfriend Nina Agdal?) that was mocked by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in a vivid anatomical reference at the Globes. Last year, Cooper, also 39, escorted mom Gloria Campano to the Oscars -- and probably will again this year, as he's dating 22-year-old model Suki Waterhouse. Back in the day (BTI, or Before the Internet), they labeled this type of a guy a "cad." Now they call him a "player." Or "movie star."
And because these movie stars don't relish the optics of bringing their just-postpubescent model-of-the-moment to the most reverent of Hollywood events, the Oscars, Mom is the perfect PR -- and social -- ploy. (Jared Leto, despite speculations of dating Taylor Swift or model-actress Natalie Loren, took his mom, Constance, to two awards-season events, possibly making his mom-date more of a political ploy, considering his Oscar nomination for playing a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club.) In any case, however many women are in a male star's life, they cannot hold Mom against him. "Mom is the puppy-in-the-park equivalent. Cute, no threat and more appealing than not," says Cindy Chupack, former Sex and the City writer, dating expert and author of The Longest Date.
Last year, Chris Evans took his mom, Lisa Evans, when his off-and-on relationship with Minka Kelly had hit the off button. Pauses between women are a good time to bring one's mother, as demonstrated by Justin Timberlake, who took his mom, Lynn Harless, in 2011 after he temporarily broke up with Jessica Biel. Before Jeremy Renner had a baby last year with Canadian model Sonni Pacheco, he took mom Valerie Cearley twice, in 2011 and 2010. Javier Bardem escorted Pilar Bardem in 2008 when he won his Oscar for No Country for Old Men (before dating future wife Penelope Cruz). And Gosling took both his mom, Donna Gosling, and sister Mandi in 2007 -- after breaking up with his two-year love Rachel McAdams.
And way back in 1998, the two most eligible bachelors in town -- Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who won best original screenplay Oscars for Good Will Hunting) -- brought respective moms Nancy and Chris, showing their sweet sides, while Damon seemed to be going between Minnie Driver and Winona Ryder and Affleck had dumped his longtime girlfriend for Gwyneth Paltrow, who'd just been dumped by Brad Pitt. But all TV audiences thought was, "Awww …"
If actresses use their gowns on the Oscar red carpet to telegraph image tweaks or to open up casting opportunities, well, actors use their dates. (Tuxes are so similar, they are not up to the task.) And in the same way players use Mom to make themselves more appealing, men with unknown or undefined sexuality can use Mom as a beard in a ball gown. If you're a betting person, you can put your money on the fact that if a man in his middle years is bringing Mom, he's either much too interested in women -- or not at all.
There are other advantages to the Oscar mom-date. "If you're a guy and bring Mom," says Chupack, "you can still flirt with floozies at the bar or the afterparties. Mom will look the other way." She may even pack a granola bar for when her son is hungry -- after all, the food-free ceremony is famously long. Best of all, a mom date will never tarnish one's profile in front of the entire partying industry, because "Mom will never get drunk and act stupid."
This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.