By now, you’ve probably heard that Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim VS. The World opened to far less box office success than many were predicting for the film. Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jason Schwartzman, the film is based on a relatively obscure series of comic books, and arrived on the same weekend that Hollywood gave us the latest projects from Sly Stallone and Julia Roberts. So, what’s to blame for Scott Pilgrim‘s fifth-place opening? Nostalgia for 80’s action flicks and Roberts’ toothy smile? The lack of any big-name stars? The “relatively obscure” source material? Or is it something else entirely? Are Americans suffering from Michael Cera fatigue? The numbers indicate that this may very well be the case. Keep on reading for the speculation, my gentle Examiner readers…
When Edgar Wright announced that Scott Pilgrim VS. The World would be his next project– and his first big-budget Hollywood movie– his fans rejoiced: not only has Wright not made a bad film up to this point (and still hasn’t, as you can read in our official Scott Pilgrim review), but the source material he’d be working from is from one of the most critically-acclaimed comic series, and everyone was curious to see what Wright would do with a Hollywood-sized budget. Then, right on the heels of this announcement, it was decided that Michael Cera would be playing the titular role of Scott Pilgrim. At this, the online geeks of the world found themselves divided: some for, some against. Already, the signs of Michael Cera Fatigue Syndrome (TM) were setting in.
The signs have been there for awhile, though, for anyone that was interested enough to be following such matters. Cera’s had some really successful films over the past five years, but the majority of them have been far from hits. And, even before some of those films failed to deliver at the box office (we’ll get into specific figures below), there was a vocal majority that claimed Cera just played the same character over and over again: “mumbly”, “twee”, “hipster-ish”, “emo”, and “cutesy” are all words that we’ve seen used to describe Cera at one time or another, and it’s beginning to seem like the naysayers are right: people may be tired of seeing Michael Cera play Michael Cera.
Things got off to a strong start for the actor with Superbad, his collaboration with Jonah Hill and Judd Apatow (who produced, but didn’t direct). That film was made for peanuts, did way-above-average box office ($121 million), and earned some pretty solid reviews. This, of course, was followed by Juno, which grossed $140 million and went on to be nominated for a handful of Academy Awards. At this point, it appeared that everyone was buying what Michael Cera was selling. Cera quickly turned into the same kind of actor that Seth Rogen turned into around the same time: taking on one project after another that was very similar to whatever had preceded it.
On film, Michael Cera tends to play soft-spoken, witty, reluctant characters. In fact, that description covers virtually every film that Michael Cera has made. For what it’s worth, Michael Cera has earned a lifetime pass from the Comedy Examiner’s Office due to his involvement with Arrested Development, but I can understand– Oh, trust me, I get it– how some could be turned off by his acting style. In point of fact, even though I consider myself a fan of this actor, I’m getting a little tired of knowing how Cera’s going to play every role he takes on. It’s a frustrating position to be in as a fan of this guy.
This is why I championed Youth in Revolt so much upon seeing it. If you haven’t seen that film (which, like Year One, Paper Heart, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, failed to break $45m at the box office– hell, it failed to break $16m at the box office), do yourself a favor and give it a shot. In that film, Michael Cera finally tackles a role that’s slightly different from everything else we’ve seen him in. Every time Cera comes onscreen as “Francois Dillinger”, the movie springs to comic life, and I have never laughed harder at something Michael Cera’s done than his phone call to the sheriff in the final act of Youth in Revolt (you’ll know it when you see it). Sadly, though, it appears that no one saw that film because either A) it wasn’t marketed correctly, or B) Michael Cera Fatigue Syndrome (hereafter, MCFS).
One can hardly say the same for Scott Pilgrim VS. The World. The trailers for that film were huge hits online, eliciting the sort of praise usually reserved for the biggest franchises in Hollywood. The reaction that the first Scott Pilgrim trailer received was pitched at roughly the same degree of fanaticism as the online reaction to the Return of The King trailer, or the trailer Warner Bros. cut for The Dark Knight. For months now, Universal’s been hitting us with one cool trailer after another for Edgar Wright’s latest film, and there was every reason to believe– based on the online reaction to these clips– that Wright’s film was the one to beat at the box office this weekend. This morning, those dreams died when the news came in that the film debuted in fifth place. Many people– Comedy Examiner included– were stunned by this development.
There’s a possibility that the film failed to achieve box office success right out of the gate because audiences were confused by the trailers, of course. Scott Pilgrim is based no a relatively obscure comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and even though the fans of that series– again, Comedy Examiner included– are quite vocal, the property doesn’t have the same name recognition of, say, Iron Man or Batman. Furthermore, the trailers showed off some of the film’s on-screen special effects: thought balloons and on-screen text to highlight actions, stuff that you’d see right there on the pages of O’Malley’s comic series. It’s been translated beautifully, to be sure, but did it confuse the majority of moviegoers?
I think not. Audiences have been conditioned by years of big-budget, effects-heavy Hollywood movies to accept the most ridiculous visual effects on film, and I find it hard to believe that a couple of thought balloons could push the film down to fifth place. Additionally, the fact that O’Malley’s comic series isn’t the most popular comic series of all time shouldn’t have effected the box office this much: Universal sold the online community on the basis of the film’s trailers, not the content of the comic series, and the fact that it was an elaborate adaptation was never a focal point of their advertising. Little by little, we’re running out of excuses for Scott Pilgrim‘s failure to catch on immediately.
Let’s also dispell the notion that Wright is to blame here. The reviews for the film have been largely positive, with Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics giving the film an oustanding 80% on average (at the time of this writing, of course; Armond White may bring that down to a 75% by the time you’ve read this, for all we know). Furthermore, I’ve seen the film: it certainly doesn’t fail on the basis of Wright’s scripting, direction, editing, or special effects. Call me crazy, but I think we’re left with very few options as to why Scott Pilgrim didn’t set the world on fire this weekend, and I think we all know what– or who– the culprit is.
After taking into account the low box office returns on Cera’s last three movies, one has to wonder if Scott Pilgrim‘s box office troubles aren’t directly related to MCFS. Look around online at message boards, or the negative reviews that Scott Pilgrim did pull in (or, in some cases, some of the positive reviews), and you start to see the trend: people are tired of seeing Michael Cera play this character. I don’t think that there’s a feeling out there– not amongst real people, anyway; the online community (or the most vocal parts of it, anyway) doesn’t seem to reflect the normal emotions of grounded people– that the masses “hate” Michael Cera. Rather, I think people just want to see him doing something different. I align myself with this camp.
So, where to go from here? My suggestion to Michael Cera would be to lay low for awhile, perhaps take on some bit parts or supporting roles that tone down some of the tics and traits that we’ve come to associate with him. This means no more mumbly roles, nothing where he’s compelled to wear ironic t-shirts or corduroys for a long stretch of time, nothing where the word “twee” could even possibly come to mind while watching his scenes unfold. Ironically, Cera seems to have attempted to dodge some of these criticisms with his fight scenes in Scott Pilgrim, but they obviously weren’t enough. Take on something even more outside your wheelhouse, kind sir, something that involves you playing a serial killer, perhaps, or maybe a drama. Or, there’s always that oft-rumored Arrested Development movie. I, for one, would have no complaints about that.
What do you folks think? Tired of Michael Cera? Want to see him do something different? Sound off in the comments section with your thoughts, my precious snowflakes: we wanna know what you think about all this! And, if you’ve seen Scott Pilgrim, do the right thing and tell your friends to go see it (assuming you liked it, of course), if not for Michael Cera– do it for Edgar Wright, who’s a God amongst men.
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(photos: top–movieposterdb.com, next–slashfilm.com, next–screencap, next–collider.com, next–slashfilm.com, next–screencap)