Let’s go back in a time machine to 2003. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and pals come out with a new TV show and all of sudden everyone starts to notice a shy, quirky, weird kid playing a character named George Michael played by actor Michael Cera. The awkward deadpan character seemed to strike a chord with younger audiences. The marketers get excited!
Nine movies later, seven of which feature Cera as a lead, romantic or comedic, he’s now the target of something mildly interesting, pop-culturally: outright hatred.
“Que Cera Cera” indeed. This Michael Cera backlash. What is it? How old is it?
The Michael Cera Backlash Begins, September, 2009 — Defamer
“It’s a razor thin line between being the coolest person on the planet and being the uncoolest person on the planet, and hoodie hearthrob Michael Cera may just have crossed over.”
Michael Cera Backlash? Buzzfeed, “About a year ago.”
“He’s getting his big chance to become the new John Cusak with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist opening this weekend, but the internets are rumbling that he’s always playing the same character, and it’s getting old. Whatever, haters. More awkward-adorableness for the rest of us.”
BREAKING: Michael Cera Backlash Brewing — Losanjealous, September, 2008.
“First Defamer put it out there that M.C. is apparently passing on the long-rumored much-anticipated A.D. movie. Today, Wells springboards off this Sun.’s NYT profile and pretty much nails it. But, to [over]simplify, maybe it’s just all about the damn fleece zip hoody sweatshirts.”
Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman Do the Weather — Urlesque, August, 2010.
“As the reviews and internet will tell you, we’re in the midst of a bit of a Michael Cera backlash… Is it because he plays the same character in every movie? Does he even play the same character in every movie? How can you play the same character in every movie when you played two different characters in your last movie?”
LOL: How To Make a Michael Cera Movie-Slashfilm, January, 2010.
“Michael Cera’s same-old-act, and the $7 million opening of his new film, Youth in Revolt, seems to suggest it might be more widespread than just a couple of my friends. High Definite has created an infographic showing the paint by numbers steps involved in creating a Michael Cera comedy.”
The rise and fall of Michael Cera and the rise and fall of his backlash has been going on for the last two years-and, too be fair, some of the credit for that goes to big blogs that can make up narratives out of very little.
But all of this should be looked at before going over to a recent NPR article addressing the negative criticism Cera’s newest movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is receiving. The movie was pretty well-liked by the people who saw it, standing at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes currently. Thing is, in two weeks, it’s being called a bomb, because it made $20 million-and it cost $60 million to make. (It’ll make it’s money back eventually.)
Linda Holmes’ NPR article about Scott Pilgrim… might be the first of its kind-that is to say, it’s a well-written, respectful and thoughtful piece from a journalistic institution-putting it out there that maybe the youth of America are on the other side of a culture change that most older people simply aren’t going to get.
“Hating Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is perfectly fine. It’s got a style; you sort of embrace it and dig it or you don’t. But when there’s too much effort given to tut-tutting the people you imagine to be enjoying it, or declaring and promising that only narrow categories of losers and non-life-havers and other stupid annoying hipsters could possibly be having a good time when you’re not, it sounds pinched and ungenerous. And, not to put too fine a point on it, a little bit jealous and fearful of obsolescence.”
The article goes on to address the strange apprehension and hatred Scott Pilgrim… in particular is causing because of how clearly niche it is. (For those uninitiated Scott Pilgrim… is based on a series of graphic novels. What the story boils down to is a meditation on 8-bit video games integrated into a comic book romance story, featuring what may be the quintessential Canadian superhero, a slacker living on his parents’ money, whose name is Scott Pilgrim.)
And yes, it’s as niche as it gets. It’s essentially the film equivalent of a magical comic book shop in Williamsburg. It’s clearly not for everyone. And the reason this comes back to Michael Cera, is that just by the way it’s worked out, he’s the same cup of tea. You either get him or you don’t.
Movies like Scott Pilgrim or The Expendables or Piranha 3-D or any of the zillion other irony-tinged movies coming out this year are shining a light on the greater generational divide between-well let’s use the groan-inducing term “millennials”-and older audiences. You could blame it on jadedness or a media-savvy or go so far as to say millennials as a group just don’t seem to value real art.
But while youth culture may rule, it’s member-consumers are fickle-and when you’re only going after the under-34 demo, you’re not going to sell any tickets to 35-year-olds and you run a chance of bombing with the kids. All over TV and film are images and shared experiences that might not be true for all of America, especially an older America.
The only really unfortunate thing in all of this is that Michael Cera just isn’t that great of either an actor or business entity on which to stake the demo’s buying power. (“Michael Cera Couldn’t Open an Envelope” is what The Wrap is going with today.)
So on the one hand, Cera is the target of older critics that don’t get his brand of “humor,” and on the other Cera plays the same character in every single movie and we really don’t have a good young 21st-century leading man, yet. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is too peripheral; Robert Pattinson and Nicholas Hoult and Daniel Radcliffe and William Moseley too English and too tied to their main roles. Who else? Josh Hutcherson is too young-Michael J. Fox. Max Records isn’t getting any work. But the demand for a real, non-vampire, truly millennial male star is there, and it’s only a matter of time before we get someone better.