Michael Cera’s bizarre New Yorker piece and the art of dissecting fame

The "Juno" star is obsessed with his own persona. But it's time to actually make a movie, Michael

Topics: Michael Cera, James Franco, The New Yorker,

Michael Cera's bizarre New Yorker piece and the art of dissecting fameMichael Cera (Credit: AP/Victoria Will)

Call it the Franco strategy: As James Franco did in 2008, it’s possible to cement one’s celebrity by alternating movie work with writing intended to subvert one’s public image. Back when James Franco set out on his conceptual-art project of a career, beginning to aggressively collect graduate degrees and directing more films than one can easily recall, he had been slowly rising for years; his breakout year on-screen, with roles in “Pineapple Express” and “Milk,” coincided perfectly with his ramping up his attempts to comment on his fame. Attempting to sustain an acting career all while slyly commenting on how weird fame is is a very difficult gambit.

Michael Cera’s kind of doing it backward. Years after the spotlight shone most brightly on him, Cera is now commenting on his public image, a public image that the public’s sort of moved past. In this year’s superlative small-scale drama “Crystal Fairy,” Cera played against his mild-mannered, hoodie-wearing type, familiar from “Arrested Development” and “Juno,” as an aggressive lout. In “This Is the End,” a comedy co-starring Franco and other lights of the recent stoner comedy scene, Cera played a cocaine-snorting L.A. monster, turned into an aggressive jerk by his success. And now he’s penned a New Yorker piece depicting himself as desperate for the adulation of strangers.

In the humor piece “My Man Jeremy,” from this week’s issue, a fictional Cera receives a misdirected text from one Jeremy; the story is told in their texts, throughout which the egotistical “Cera” capitalizes his own name and the words “Films” and “Me.” He’s proud — even moved — when he thinks Jeremy stumbled across his notoriously poor “Year One” on TV. Jeremy confuses Cera with his fellow nebbishy actor (and fellow New Yorker humor contributor) Jesse Eisenberg, and ignores Cera’s repeated overtures at hanging out. Cera portrays himself as utterly alone and wrapped up in memories of past glories.

JEREMY 12/19 5:19 PM

it’s just me an j. he seen you in juno

MICHAEL 12/19 5:19 PM

oh cool! “Juno” was a really fun experience for Me

MICHAEL 12/19 5:21 PM

the script was really strong and the director Jason Reitman had a vision


MICHAEL 5/15 5:36 PM

I’m going to Vegas!!! haha. want to come with?

MICHAEL 5/15 5:38 PM

probably be more fun than going alone!

The piece — which ends with Cera, abandoned by his imaginary friend Jeremy, on a talk show hoping for the audience’s adulation — is more chilling than the usual “Shouts & Murmurs” piece. It’s obviously fake but, like his role in “This Is the End,” doesn’t scan as impossible; Cera is private enough that no one knows what he’s like when he’s not working, and he’s so closely identified with his zeitgeist moment, when he followed up the cult hit show “Arrested Development” with star turns in “Superbad” and “Juno,” that one doesn’t wonder. Everything about this year’s fourth season of “Arrested Development,” including Cera’s performance, felt something like a period piece once the initial hype had burned off; what the piece gets at most piquantly is the sense that Cera’s highest-profile work is behind him.

And that’s fine! One well-wrought “Crystal Fairy” is, at least to this viewer, worth 10 formulaic Judd Apatow-produced comedies. But there’s something wearying about a celebrity undertaking the project of explicating to us, many times over, what it means to live in the public eye. In terms of the balance between actual fame and explicit or implicit commentary about image creation, Cera’s running deep in the red for 2013.

The New Yorker has, in recent years, become a very friendly outlet for celebrities looking to comment on their work, their lives and their public images. Mindy Kaling used the magazine to further the notion of herself as a romantic-comedy obsessive, an image she dug into on her subsequent Fox sitcom. Tina Fey explored whether or not she was reaching the age when potential collaborators would see her as “crazy.” The aforementioned Eisenberg has published several pieces that rhyme with his image as a sort of neurotic, tic-y young Woody Allen. But all of those celebrities produce work, outside the magazine, that does more than explore the contours of long-established persona. Michael Cera wants to make a point about fame. Even James Franco took a break from grand statements to make “Spring Breakers” (and “Oz the Great and Powerful”). Just as superstars alternate a film for artistic satisfaction with a film for the studios and the audiences, one hopes he’ll actually use that fame to make movies about characters rather than facets of the Cera persona.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...