On The Brink

13 months ago Michael Cera, the 19 year-old costar of the just-opened Superbad, was suddenly the Guy of the Moment — a cool new GenY talent who embodied a very dry, droll and witty comic mentality, which was also evident in Clark and Michael, his co-created web series. And yet today — don’t laugh — I’m getting a feeling that Cera may be two or three steps from being over.

I’m not saying this is in the cards, and I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Cera’s comic sensibility — I do. But if he is in fact on the brink of being over (which is to say completely done within two or three years), the two main reasons are (a) he’s already repeating himself and (b) his aversion to being famous, hard to swallow from a guy who’s been acting since he was 10 or 11 years old, is profoundly tiresome. Nobody has time for that sensitive “poor me because I’m rich and famous” shit. I don’t, I can tell you.
Three months after Superbad opened — early September, or a little more than a year ago — Juno played the Telluride Film Festival and there was Cera again, playing more or less the same Superbad character but without Jonah Hill to play off and minus the great rapier-wit lines. And then his latest film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony, 10.3), played the Toronto Film Festival, and again people — okay, a big-city critic-journalist I spoke with just before travelling to Toronto — said Cera is more or less playing the Superbad guy again and that he needs to expand his repertoire.
When I passed this observation along to some journalists friends at the beginning of the festival, one of them joked about Cera,”That settles it — we need to take this guy down.”
I’m not trying to take Cera or anyone else down, but I am saying — observing — that the window of coolness and hotness seems to be getting shorter and shorter these days, and that Cera may soon find himself a victim of this syndrome. If he doesn’t pull something new out of his hat, I mean. The fact that one guy has already begun to tire of Cera’s act may sound ludicrous, but it also suggests that perhaps he is playing the same tune over and over.

Cera, Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

I’m not voicing this view myself (I haven’t seen Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and I personally can’t wait for Youth in Revolt) but…well, I did begin to think this a little bit when I saw Cera in Juno. I said to myself, “Okay, fine, whatever…this again.” I’m presuming others had this thought, no?
Now comes a N.Y. Times interview, conducted and written by Katrina Onstad during the Toronto Film Festival, in which Cera “sat rod straight and used the phrase ‘I don’t know’ 48 times in one hour.” Being a veteran of hundreds of interviews, I can tell you that a person who says “I don’t know” once or twice during a chat is most likely just being frank, but a guy who says it 48 times is — trust me — being deliberately obstinate.
“I don’t really want to be famous, and I’m kind of scared that might be happening,” Cera told Onstad. “I might really have to stop and think before I make decisions now, and see how they’re going to affect my life, and see if it’s what I want to be doing with my life. I guess I need to make sure that it’s worth all that comes with it.”
I have to be honest and admit that my first reaction when I read the above was, “That’s it — he’s written his epitaph.” But then I remembered that this is the same thing Leonardo DiCaprio was saying in the wake of Titanic and that he eventually got past that, so maybe Cera will also. Or maybe he’ll quit acting down the road and become a director-writer-producer — i.e., the next Judd Apatow. But I do feel some kind of downshift coming a year or two hence.
A guy who’s starred or co-starred in two movies that made $143 million and $121 million in the same year (i.e., Superbad and Juno) has built up loads of credit and good will, but sooner or later the world gives the hook to repetitive weenies.

33 thoughts on “On The Brink

  1. I’ll take this with a grain of salt because I distinctly remember JW writing off Heath Ledger after Four Feathers. Seemed a fair-enough assessment at the time but then Gilliam cast him in The Brothers Grimm, which led to Ang Lee offering him the Brokeback Mountain role…the rest is history. It’s what makes actors interesting: getting to see them suddenly improve out of nowhere.

  2. While I haven’t seen Cera’s work yet, he seems a little more believable than Leo. But unlike Leo, and more like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cera’s deliberately trying to avoid being the pompous teen idol big shot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It might help both of them develop the kind of name-brand reliability and appeal which helped boost Depp’s comeback.

  3. Spacelamb: “I’ll take this with a grain of salt because I distinctly remember JW writing off Heath Ledger after Four Feathers. Seemed a fair-enough assessment at the time but then Gilliam cast him in The Brothers Grimm, which led to Ang Lee offering him the Brokeback Mountain role…the rest is history.”
    Ledger had nothing to do with the bankability or appeal of those flicks. And I imagine Ang Lee hired him, because he was cheap.

  4. Hoho: “Heath Ledger had NOTHING to do with the appeal of Brokeback Mountain.”
    People saw it because they liked Ang Lee. No casual viewer knows who Tony Leung is here, but Lust, Caution made some good money for a subbed NC-17 flick for the same reason.

  5. What a specious pile of twaddle, gruver. None of those films have the same intended audience, so whether Cera seems similar in them is of no account to anyone but “big-city” critic twits with more time than brains, who waste their lives seeing everything they can at film festivals.
    When you get the periodic urge like this, first try to find someone worthy of being taken down, and then give it your best.

  6. “We need to take this guy down.”
    How exactly? That’s some retard logic right there. It’s clearly the case of a journalist with no power trying to feel like they have the ability to destroy someone much cooler and more unsuccessful than them. It’s like saying, “I know I’m a nobody, but I can ruin you if you cross me or I get bored with you.” No. You can’t.
    Remember Almost Famous. You aren’t cool. You never will be cool. Just keep writing about the stuff you love (or in the case of this anonymous journalist friend, the stuff you used to love and now hate because you’re jaded) and thank the gods you aren’t digging ditches or working in a cubicle. That’s it.
    And bring on Scott Pilgrim.

  7. Wells to Rothchild: The journalist who said “We need to take this guy down” was joking. I used the word “joked” in the sentence. Read it again: “When I passed this observation along to some journalists friends at the beginning of the festival, one of them joked about Cera, ‘That settles it — we need to take this guy down.’”

  8. This is ridiculous. “Yeah, I hate it when actors do the “same thing” in two or three different movies.” I guess that’s why people like Gene Wilder or Bill Murray or never made more than one or two successful films before people caught on and they were finished.
    Cera, after three seasons of perfection on Arrested Development, made some pretty excellent film choices to follow it up, and his performances in Superbad and Juno are a big part of what made those films successful. Now he’s in danger of being “over”? You’re reaching.
    Even if Nick and Nora turns out to be a dud, even if Youth In Revolt turns out to be a bomb– which, who knows, they might both be big hits, but I’m just saying for the sake of argument– he’s supposedly great to work with, and he’s really funny and charming onscreen. Audiences who saw him in Superbad and Juno actually LIKED him. A LOT. The audience when I saw Juno practically swooned every time he appeared on screen. That kind of quality is more than a little rare, and it’s not something that just goes away overnight, even in this short-attention span age we live in.
    If the “window of coolness and hotness seems to be getting shorter and shorter these days”, your mindset in this post is a BIG part of the problem. You’re acting like you’re reporting on some outside phenomenon– “people are getting sick of seeing Michael Cera”– when in fact, YOU are the one who is putting this idea out there. Posts like this are part of the problem. (It’s not dissimilar to when people like David Brooks try to act like they are speaking on behalf of the “common man” in their political columns, when they are just blurting out their own Beltway opinions…)
    I don’t mean to jump all over this, but it seems like a particularly unhealthy thing to post about an actor who’s done nothing but good work so far– you have some “hunch” that he’s about to be “over” and you want to get it out there so if his career tanks you can be the one who got there first. If you got a chance to interview Cera, would you have balls big enough to tell him that you think he just does the same thing in Superbad and Juno, or to tell him that you think his career’s about to crater? Probably not, I’m guessing. So, why post it? I love reading most of your posts, but this kind of thing seems to showcase one of your worst tendencies….

  9. He IS going to be over and soon, Mr Muckle et al. Wells is just seeing into the future. Do any of you see that face of his in the movies over the next few decades or so? He looks like every other young actor of his generation and age… like a pubescent, feminine weakling. He’s the same in every movie, he looks like a dear caught in headlights (which is the extent of his acting range). Yeah, i enjoyed him in Arrested Development and Juno, though I’m not interested in seeing him in anything else. No need to.
    Remember when young actors actually exuded male sex appeal? Brando, Newman etc? Today, we’re stuck with sad, emo, little boys in urban outfitter apparel, supposedly being “stars” and “acting”.

  10. I see nothing special about Michael Cera, so i son’t even get the fuss.
    I agree with D.Z. Heath Ledger was not the reason people went to see BM. He was wonderful in it and it made him The Joker and all that, but when the movie came out, people went to see the Ang Lee film. If anything, Jake Gyllenhaal was hotter at the time.

  11. I know I’ll be dogged by some of you for writing this but, Michael Cera strikes me as a mix of a young Woody Allen and James Stewart. At first when I saw him on AD I didn’t think much of him but over time I really appreciated the way he delivered his lines and character and every movie since then he has proven himself to be a unique talent not to be underrated. He’s 19 so as he matures and continues to have that appeal of an everyman type presence without being overbearing I think he’ll do just fine in his profession. At least that’s my opinion.

  12. D.Z., I didn’t intend to infer that Ledger was single-handedly responsible for their bankability or appeal. I meant that an actor who is written off as a has-been or a lightweight can bounce-back (or even better) with a single, impressive performance. Mickey Rourke appears to be this years model, for example.

  13. Aris P-
    Do you know what Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood looked like when they were 18?
    They looked like Michael Cera. So let’s knock off the “Back in my day men were men crap”.

  14. You could easily go back to the first few Tom Hanks movies and say “this guy is going to be over SO soon. He only does that ONE thing. He’s the “SPLASH” guy. Hey, did you see the “SPLASH” guy in “Volunteers”? His career is going to be over and SOON.”
    I know that there is a tendency to dismiss people who have a “persona” in favor of chameleons who are different in every movie, but only a small handful of people are really suited for that and do it well (Daniel Day Lewis, Philips Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep…) Personally, I wish Tom Hanks would make more movies where he used his natural persona and blended it to suit the character, rather than trying to use multiple accents and tackling Oscar Bait roles. (More Punchline, less Road To Perdition/Terminal/Catch Me If You Can…)
    I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to some of the Cera haters to compare him to Hanks, but I’d say his work on AD is a far better starting point than Bosom Buddies…

  15. Doesn’t that first picture make him look like Sasha Baron Cohen’s long-lost son? A father-son comedy with these two NEEDS to happen!

  16. He has riddiculously amazing comic timing and while they’re all kinda meek teenagers the Juno/Superbad/AD characters aren’t identical.
    That said, yeah, I’d like to see him stretch a bit. I’m sure he can.

  17. cw: “You could easily go back to the first few Tom Hanks movies and say “this guy is going to be over SO soon. ”
    He probably will after Da Vinci…

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