Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michael Cera, You Ruin Everything

This past spring, when I learned that Michael Cera would be playing the part of Scott Pilgrim in the eponymous flick, I shouted, "Michael Cera, you ruin EVERYTHING!" which my sister overheard and agreed with. Scott Pilgrim, I groused, should have been played by someone goofy, stocky, Canadian, floppy of hair and noodly of disposition.

And I was wrong. Michael Cera is all those things - okay, he's by no means "stocky," but he beefed up a little to play Mister Pilgrim, and it showed. Canadian, with enormous silly hair and a comedically confused demeanor, Cera is probably best known for his one-two punch of Arrested Development and Juno, both of which showcased his "acting style". He's famous for his stuttery, naturalistic delivery, which prompts some detractors (like me) to roll their eyes and say, "He's not even really acting," which is probably only partly true. In SP, Cera jumped around and amped up his delivery, turning up the dial from "guy you totally knew in high school" to "cartoon version of guy you totally knew in high school."


I was ambivalent-to-horrified by the decision to cast Cera in the Scott Pilgrim role, mostly because I had never been exposed to Arrested Development and had only really seen the hipster hype around him. Juno, while a charming movie, portrayed Cera as a desirable piece of ass. Maybe I've been out of high school too long, but I was like, "Seriously? That silly-haired boy I could crush with my bare hands?" and refused to be attracted to him. (Ellen Page, on the other hand, I would totally make out with in the back of a taxi.) And then I saw Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, which was execrable, and I decided that I hate Michael Cera.

The problem is, I was doing things backwards. I was seeing his most look-at-me projects first. These were movies designed to make Cera into A Star For Our Time - a generation's polite, nervous, stuttering equivalent to George Clooney. And again, I was like, "For realsies? That guy?" because Cera is more like A Steve Buscemi For Our Time, or should be: the guy who can deliver a certain type of nervous, twitchy performance, and who's second on the marquee. He's interesting, but not fan-myself gorgeous. He's a dude, a guy, a bud.

There was also a certain triumph to Cera's celebrity. He was a surrogate for all the non-gorgeous guys out there, showing the world that dweebs could still land the likes of Ellen Page and Kat Dennings - undeniable babes. He was an unlikely romantic hero, made even less likely by his auspicious start as the boy who loved his cousin on Arrested Development. He was an unwitting part of the Schlub Romance sub-genre of comedy, in which highly suspect leading men (Seth Rogen, Jack Black) were cast as viable romantic options for women like Katherine Heigl and Kate Winslet: pretty, smart women who, in the non-filmed real world, would brush those guys off without a second thought.

Anyway, I started watching Arrested Development a few weeks ago when I was laid up with the flu. Now, I don't know if this was the fever talking, but I wasn't thoroughly irritated by Cera. He was decked out in pleated khakis and dorky shirts, secretly in love with his cousin and refreshingly normal compared to his ridiculous TV family. He seemed like a sweet teenage boy marooned in a weird situation - in other words, comedic fruit ripe for the picking.

Seen in this light, the rest of his career makes a ton more sense to me. Of course his breakout role was in Superbad, playing the nebbishy good-guy foil to Jonah Hill's galumphing asshole. Of course he made the self-indulgent Paper Heart with his maybe-girlfriend Charlyne Yi. Of course he took on Scott Pilgrim, with its romantic entanglements X seven.

His likability has dropped with subsequent roles, bottoming out with SP, which is a shame, since that movie is arguably one of his best-made movies and definitely one of his most interesting ones. Hopefully audiences of the future will be able to see past the unfortunate Cera hype machine and appreciate the flick for its humour and style. But he still has pull with audiences, and if the long-promised Arrested Development movie ever actually gets made, he'll do a lot to repair the damage of Year One.

I'm able to change my mind about people and things - Leonardo DiCaprio went from crush to object of disgust to respected actor, and I've come to like jogging. I think it's good to be flexible (although thinking it and living it are different things, for sure), and I try to think critically about my opinions - if they're based in fact or feelings, and how they change over time. I'll admit to irrationally hanging on to certain opinions (like, okay, I know How I Met Your Mother is sexist, stupid, horribly plotted and has Ted "Scenery Eater" Mosby...but I still sort of like it). Obviously, the stakes are lower when it comes to media and pop culture, but it's good practice for topics like "How I feel about Israel" or "Which of my friends I would eat first in the case of apocalypse."

I'll count myself as a former member of the let's-all-hate-M.-Cera group now. I'm fairly certain he wasn't expecting to become the generational emblem he was marketed as, and despite some career missteps, his choices have been decent enough. I'll defend the Cera I like - George Michael, Scott Pilgrim - and ignore the Cera I don't care for. My skepticism is fading. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go spend some time with the Bluths.

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