Subject: Michael Cera, 22-year-old Canadian actor
Date of Assessment: January 8, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Unassuming, charming, cute, adorable, twee.
Negative Buzzwords: Overexposed, overrated, typecast, stagnant.
The Case: “Arrested Development” launched Michael Cera as a prospective indie darling, but who would have ever thought—out of all the aggregate talent involved with the show—that Cera would be the sole breakout star? True, Jason Bateman has seen a respectable career resurrection; Portia de Rossi has continued onto yet another television series; Will Arnett has settled into comfortably voicing villainous animated characters; and we all know what David “Upstate New York” Cross has been doing lately. Still, none of them compare to Cera, who went on from his role of George Michael Bluth, the awkward teenage son who crushes upon his cousin, to launch what some would consider an entire career of playing the same role.
Let’s be quite clear here—I love me some George Michael Bluth and was quite jazzed (initially, anyway) to see him go on to bigger things. However, as Cera’s career has continued, his acting style has, unfortunately, stagnated. After just a few short years, Cera’s gotten quite famous for playing a handful of nearly identical characters. In fact, there’s not much growth as an actor going on at all, and for all the critical acclaim that Cera attracts, the cries of “Overexposed!” have certainly not been unfounded.
Still, how did this happen? Well, going back to the glory days of John Hughes, the geeky underdogs that Anthony Michael Hall played have always attracted their fair share of swooning fans. And Cera—much like a less forthright version of Farmer Ted (Sixteen Candles)—has always portrayed a slight variation on the awkward, dorky guy who ends up bagging the babe in those quirky (and typically) indie flicks. What made Cera stand out from just being a critical darling and ephemeral subject of fangirls’ dreams is that he’s gotten really lucky to be attached to some very successful films. Superbad earned a very respectable $169 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, but the kicker was Juno, which nobody ever expected to gross $231 million worldwide on a $7.5 million budget. Sure, Juno was a charming, twee little film, but it was a fluke as far as its financial success goes, and Cera only played a throwaway character (honestly, Juno never needed to reveal the father for the film’s story to make sense) but reaped the benefits of association.
So, Michael Cera has appeared in some relatively low-budget (mostly indie) flicks that have performed rather well and, in some cases, unexpectedly well. For this, Cera’s been added to Forbes “Best Actors For The Buck” list. As a result, even though Cera has essentially played the same damn character in all of his roles, Cera has been credited as a great return on studio investment. However, the arrival of the inevitable cinematic duds—the yawn-inducing Paper Heart and the brainless Year One—is now causing audiences to wonder exactly what was so special about Cera in the first place. Just check out Urban Dictionary’s definition of Michael Cera:
A term used to describe a general feeling that an actor is merely playing the same type of character previously seen in another production. Where it be a theater production, film, or television series …. used to describe innumerable actors that cannot develop or play a varying repertoire of characters.
Let’s review the evidence of Cera’s roles: In Juno, he was an awkward teenager who impregnates his best friend, in Superbad, he was another awkward teenage dork; in Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, he was a jilted lover who awkwardly stalks his ex-girlfriend with mix tapes. (At this point, it’s no wonder that Preciously Awkward now exists in the realm of pop-culture satire.) Then, Cera experienced a career low with Year One, which was a comparatively big-budget studio production. Yet, instead of using this opportunity to select a script with a more diverse character than the usual, Cera ended up playing an awkward caveman who peed in his own mouth. Time to check out those priorities, ain’t it?
Admittedly, it seems rather unfair to summarize Cera’s acting abilities in terms of a few years’ worth of films. After all, there are a lot of actors (Will Farrell, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey) who have successfully played the same sort of characters over and over again. However, it’s also worth reiterating that Cera received near-instantaneous attention from his unexpectedly successful projects. Suddenly, it felt like the bloke was everywhere at once. And if Cera can benefit from this sort of exposure (which he obviously has), then he’s also gonna have to face up to the criticism that his demonstrated acting range is very limited. Hell, the early stills for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World show Cera in his usual awkward and stuttering role but now brandishing a flaming sword. That’s not too promising.
Prognosis: At this very moment, I’m entirely sick of Michael Cera’s well-worn shtick and would take Jesse Eisenberg over the latter any old day. Cera is on tenuous ground, and, if he plans on escaping the “typecast” label, he’d damn well better start picking better scripts when it comes to large studio projects. Also, developing some actual acting range wouldn’t hurt matters either. (Youth In Revolt pending.)
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.