The Case For Michael Cera's Comeback


When you think about it, it's kind of amazing that Michael Cera -- with his unlikely, tentative screen presence -- has become a famous movie star. Still, that hasn't stopped a host of bloggers and entertainment pundits from declaring in recent months that Cera's star power is already on the wane. "He plays the same character every time!" they crow. "Year One sucked! He held up the Arrested Development movie! And what's up with all those hoodies all the time? Michael Cera is over -- let the backlash begin!"

Slowly but surely, that online Cera coup has gained strength. In a few days, though, I think they'll have their work cut out for them.

That's because on Tuesday, Cera's next film premieres at the Toronto Film Festival, and it's the right movie at the right time for the 21-year-old actor. Adapted from the C.D. Payne novel by Miguel Arteta, Youth in Revolt at first finds Cera doing his usual neurotic teen shtick -- only this time, it's the sharpest-written shtick he's been handed since the glory days of Arrested Development. As put-upon, lovesick Nick Twisp, Cera's allowed to be a more scathing version of his familiar persona -- he's as sex-obsessed as he was in Superbad, but newly bitter; as devoted to his love interest as he was in Juno or Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, only pathologically so; and, crucially, as timid and halting as we've seen him so many times before on-screen, but ready to finally do something about it.

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"You must be bad, Nickie," teases the girl of his Youth in Revolt dreams, Sheeni Saunders. "Be very, very bad." It's as though she's pleading with Cera himself to drop the neutered indie boy act -- and he does, quite literally. Desperate to win Sheeni's affection, Nick Twisp develops a rebellious alter ego named Francois Dillinger who sports a mustache, a decibels-lower voice, and a penchant for getting in trouble. Anytime Twisp is in danger of submitting to the same man-boy predicaments we've already seen Cera endure in other movies, he transforms into Dillinger, insouciantly flicks a cigarette, and lights a bully's car on fire. It's a bracing, welcome jolt of a performance that couldn't be better timed for Cera: "You want me to play something other than myself? I'll give you a character who does exactly that."

Suddenly, the cruel teasing and procrastinating Cera engaged in when asked about the Arrested Development movie makes sense -- he was just letting out his inner Francois! (Also helping ameliorate Cera's behavior is the fact that series creator Mitch Hurwitz recently supplanted him as Foot-Dragger #1 on that project.) After having to play himself on-screen all year -- literally, in the case of Paper Heart -- who could blame Cera for giving his alter ego a spin in the press?

It remains to be seen if the newly flush Weinsteins will put their marketing muscle behind Cera's Revolt performance, but at least Cera himself has finally shown he's no pushover. He'll get a chance to further his newfound aggression in next year's cartoonish beat-em-up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which again takes a standard Cera trope (lovelorn indie rocker pines for pixie) and sends it spinning in an off-kilter, video-game-inspired direction. Who knew Cera simply had to find his bad side to get on our good side again?



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