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Why Michael Cera appears to be everywhere onscreen

May 14, 2009 at 12:14 a.m.


ARCHIVE PHOTO () —

By Christopher Borrelli

Chicago Tribune

(MCT)

What is the meaning of Michael Cera?

For as long as there have been movies, the leading man has not been Michael Cera. The leading man has fit a narrow profile — square jaw, a thick wave of healthy hair. Beyond the physical, the leading man had charisma — he was confident. Substantial.

Of course, vulnerability has been part of actorly Hollywood since at least the dawn of James Dean. But not since the rise of Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino (tiny, jittery, ethnic-looking) has there been an addition to the leading-man club so easy to topple. Like, literally knock over.

Now the weird part: Michael Cera is far from alone in his scrawny zero-charisma stardom. Indeed, last month I had the strangest conversation with my girlfriend. We were talking about "Adventureland" and she told me how much she liked Michael Cera. I told her Michael Cera was not in "Adventureland."

"He was," she said.

"No, you're thinking of Jesse Eisenberg," I said.

Turns out, she's not alone — confusing Michael Cera with other lilting man-boy actors of the moment is a concern.

And since you have too much going on in your life to know which actor is Michael Cera, here's a cheat sheet:

—Michael Cera

Age: 20 Where you've seen him: As the pensive half of "Superbad"; as Jason Bateman's son, George Michael, on the Fox sitcom "Arrested Development"; as meek impregnator Paulie Bleeker in "Juno"; soon as Oh in Harold Ramis' "Year One."

Why you think he's Michael Cera:

No. 1, he is Michael Cera. Nos. 2 through 4, Michael Cera is physically negligible, a rail-thin angelic man-boy with big, earnest eyes who has probably had the same haircut since 3rd grade; he stammers when he tries to talk to women, or to almost anyone, the mark of a true sensitive high school intellectual (in movies, at least); his default expression is gape-mouthed profound bewilderment, with grace notes of adolescent stupidity and subdued teenage frustration.

Why he's not Michael Cera: Does not apply.

—Paul Dano

Age: 24 Where you've seen him: As the son who won't talk in "Little Miss Sunshine"; as the preacher with pretensions who spars against Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"; soon in "Taking Woodstock."

Why you think he's Michael Cera: Thin and pale; his voice breaks when he gets excited; eerily placid.

Why he's not Michael Cera: Michael Cera has ramrod-straight posture, Dano slouches. Default expression is more purse-mouthed than gape-mouthed; taller than Cera, with a longer neck, a more oval face; seems better predisposed for drama than comedy.

—Anton Yelchin

Age: 20 Where you've seen him: As Chekov in the new "Star Trek" picture; as teenager Kyle Reese, future father of John Connor, in the coming "Terminator Salvation"; as the kidnapped boy in "Alpha Dog."

Why you think he's Michael Cera: Like Michael Cera, if cast in a World War II drama, he could easily play the young soldier who represents the death of innocence; boyish face; severely pale skin; slight in appearance; deer-in-headlight eyes.

Why he's not Michael Cera: Rarely mugs; his delivery rests more on short bursts of misplaced overconfidence than awkward hesitation.

—Jesse Eisenberg

Age: 25 Where you've seen him: As the leading man in "Adventureland"; as Jeff Daniels' son in "The Squid and the Whale"; soon in the comedy "Zombieland."

Why you think he's Michael Cera: Like Michael Cera, his niche is Indie With Poignant Laughs.

And your first reaction is not whether he is an actor but whether he is that guy you've never heard of whom you agreed to friend on Facebook. His skin is translucent; his eyes are wide. His delivery is pure hesitation, followed by a spew of words.

Why he's not Michael Cera:

More geared toward drama than comedy. His hair is generally curlier. His default expression is less panic than bemusement.

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Christopher Borrelli: cborrelli@tribune.com

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(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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ARCHIVE PHOTO on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

"Michael Cera"

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