Eisencera? How about Cerenberg? What shall this two-faced hybrid be known as? Why does it exist? Will the two actors ever be considered on their own merits?
These are eternal questions that may never be answered. But I will attempt to make a contribution to the ongoing debate that has surely preoccupied the minds of most peoples of the world at one time or another.
Their differences have been analysed by many, notably by film.com in an article helpfully pointing out that differences do exist between the curly-haired, deadpan indie favourites. But why have these particular two actors been singled out?
Jesse Eisenberg is a 27-year-old from Queens who exhibits a nervous energy and sharp intellect that can come across as pretentious, but I personally find his brand of honesty endearing. When Eisenberg appeared in a Wes Craven werewolf flick I doubt he could have imagined he would one day land a starring role in a little-known movie about a website primarily used for stalking and procrastination that has become one of the biggest innovations of the past decade.
Michael Cera first came to mine (and everyone else’s) attention as the lovable George Michael Jr. in the perenially loved, short-lived comedy Arrested Development. With his subsequent roles as the sweet accidental father in Juno and as empathetic Evan in Superbad, the 23-year-old Ontario native scored a free pass to being a favourite of mine – even his participation in the terrible Paper Heart was forgiven.
On the surface, it is easy to see why the two are compared, as the above graphic shows and as reflected in reviews in which they are oft-derided for showing limited ranges. Their shared gift for embodying the awkward naivete of young manhood is also an obvious point of comparison.
But look a bit deeper and the depth of their abilities become clear. Both have an impressive command of the physicality of their performances, lending a natural humour to characters that might be played as obnoxious or trite by lesser actors. The character of Mark Zuckerberg is the most recent example of this. Eisenberg exercises a quiet, powerful restraint as Mark, adding layers to a potentially one-dimensional character with his nuanced performance. The Social Network is a crucial film for Eisenberg because it proves he has made the leap from the niche he had settled into: that of the awkward, inexperienced teenager in indie coming-of-age tales such as Rodger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland.
Eisenberg’s starring role in last year’s hit Zombieland particulalry demonstrated his potential for becoming the go-to neurotic leading man of edgy comedic fare, threatening Cera’s claim to that title – see Superbad, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist andYouth in Revolt to understand how Cera earned it. If this is in fact a race with only two contenders, a recent poll by Toronto Life revealed that Eisenberg is currently the preferred actor of the two, scoring 63% of the votes.
Putting aside the preoccupation with keeping tabs of the relative successess of similarly endowed actors, both deserve credit for playing a big part in broadening the idea of what a nerd can be. Their roles so far have gone beyond stereotypical portrayals of the guy with poor social skills (Cera in Arrested Development), who has trouble scoring girls (Eisenberg in Zombieland) or keeping the girl he already has because of his obsession with social status (Eisenberg in The Social Network), or simply deals with the daily trials of being a committed slacker whose life is actually a video game (Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).
If Cera and Eisenberg continue on an upwards trajectory, showing us skills beyond the spectrum of the deadpan modes they have mastered, we might see the dawn of a new era in which the display of a toned physique is not the essential quality of a leading man. The possession of an endearing, geeky intelligence might instead be enough to win the girl and save the day.