Warning! This Article Will Trigger Jonah Hill | Commentary

The “Superbad” actor’s ex-girlfriend has posted text messages that make him seem like a manipulative, psycho-babbling jerk. Was it wrong for her to expose him? Or is Instagram the best revenge?

Jonah Hill Sara Brady emotional abuse
Jonah Hill's ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady accused him of having a "list of expectations" for her during their relationship. (Getty, Christopher Smith/TheWrap)

Ben Svetkey

Benjamin Svetkey

Veteran entertainment journalist Benjamin Svetkey shoots the breeze, raises a brow and sometimes wags a finger in his ruminations on the latest Hollywood news and controversies.

I honestly never thought I’d find myself writing this sentence, but lately I’ve become obsessed with Jonah Hill’s love life.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the latest social media outrage, the 39-year-old “Superbad” actor and mental health advocate (he directed last year’s “Stutz,” a documentary about his therapist) is currently embroiled in a #MeToo-esque scandal involving his former girlfriend, 26-year-old semi-pro surfer Sarah Brady. 

The two started dating in 2021, after Hill stumbled upon Brady’s surfing videos on Instagram and slid into her DMs to ask her out, but the romance fizzled after only about a year. Just last Friday, though, Brady started posting a series of Hill’s old text messages that set the internet ablaze with fiery deliberations over toxic boyfriend behavior, the propriety of revealing your ex’s private IMs, and whether or not Hill fully understands the meaning of the word “thong.” 

We’ll get to all those great debates in just a minute, but first a brief recap of what Brady unleashed on Insta over the weekend.

She teed up her attack on Hill with this opening salvo: “This is a warning to all girls. If your partner is talking to you like this, make an exit plan. Call me if you need an ear.”

Then, in front of her 150,000 followers, Brady proceeded to share screenshots of multiple text message exchanges she identified as being between Hill and herself. Most of them involved Hill outlining what he called his “boundaries.” Among her behaviors he deemed unacceptable: “Surfing with men,” “inappropriate friendships with men,” a desire “to model” or “post pictures of yourself in a bathing suit,” and “friendships with women who are in unstable places.”

“Will respect you either way but these are my boundaries of this romantic relationship,” Hill continued, asking her to respond before attending what one presumes was the opening of his 2021 Netflix apocalyptic comedy “Don’t Look Up.” “I’d love to know before the premiere so I’m not put in the position of publicly flaunting our love if my boundaries are going to be continued to be disrespected. That would be hurtful and triggering to me.”

There was more — Hill insisting that Brady skip certain surfing competitions; demanding that Brady delete from her feed photos of her in bathing attire he considered overly suggestive, including a relatively demure one-piece that Hill referred to as a thong (“Not a thong, but OK,” Brady replied); references to couples counseling sessions at which a therapist apparently suggested that Brady “swim away” from male surfers during surfing meets — and on and on and on. 

About the only way it could have looked worse for Hill is if he had posted a photograph of himself in a thong.

Still, the whole thing might have blown over if New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum hadn’t elbowed her way into the picture, tweeting to her 282,000 followers her opinion on the now-public spat between the ex-lovers, which was that Brady should have kept it private.

“It’s gross to post your ex’s private texts unless you have a really solid reason to do so — and this holds true even if your ex was a thin-skinned, manipulative weasel,” she wrote in a post that ultimately drew more than nine million views.

Nussbaum wasn’t totally wrong, of course. There’s something ethically iffy about sharing an ex’s private IMs with the whole wide world. I mean, let he who has never Fexted cast the first tweet. None of us have squeaky clean online histories.

But Nussbaum got roasted anyway, with hundreds of commenters rushing to Brady’s defense. And they weren’t totally wrong, either. Hill’s texts, after all, belonged to Brady. He sent them to her; it’s not like she hacked into anyone’s server to steal them. More to the point, the experience of being passive-aggressively bullied by Hill — if that’s indeed what happened — belonged to her, as well, and it’s her right to share that experience if she feels there might be some psychological or social benefit to doing so.

Jonah Hill and Sarah Brady attend the world premiere of Netflix's "Don't Look Up" (Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Jonah Hill and Sarah Brady attend the world premiere of Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” (Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

As Guardian columnist Moira Donegan posted in response to Nussbaum, “Because so much of men’s interpersonal mistreatment of women happens in the ‘private’ sphere, too much respect for the sanctity of ‘privacy’ would make a lot of feminist conversations basically unspeakable.”

But never mind the debate over text-sharing etiquette; what’s been especially galling to a lot of observers, feminist and otherwise, is the language Hill uses in his text messages, smugly flinging around loaded words like “boundaries” and “triggering” to get his then-girlfriend to do what he wants her to do. As many have been pointing out, it’s as if Hill weaponized the therapy-speak he learned during his years on the couch with Phil Stutz in an attempt to manipulate Brady’s behavior and life choices.

Hill’s done this sort of thing before, like last year, when he backed out of doing publicity for “Stutz” and his Netflix comedy “You People,” announcing in a press release that talking to reporters undermined his mental health (although attending premieres doesn’t seem to do much psychological damage).

Of course, Hill has an absolute right not to do publicity if he doesn’t want to, just as he has an absolute right to break up with his girlfriend over her taste in bathing suits. He has an absolute right to be a thin-skinned manipulative weasel, if that’s what he wants to be. (He can even violate his own prior dictums and date a model… and have a baby with one. Congrats, Olivia Millar, who gave birth to Hill’s first child in May).

But masking that dickishness in vernacular of mental health, using therapy buzzwords to justify what in any other context is pretty clearly bad boyfriend behavior, that’s a different story. And that’s really what has so many people, especially women, so angry at Hill right now.

I can’t put it any more succinctly — or brilliantly — than a Twitter poster named @sophiebuddle, who summed up the whole sordid episode with a single sentence: “if ur bf says not to post that bikini pic ask him if that’s the jonah hill he wants to die on.”