Gregory Go Boom –And Why I’m an Awful Person
Michael Cera plays Gregory in Gregory Go Boom (2013), written and directed by Janicza Bravo. I left the theater with one question after seeing it and sitting through the Q&A: Why would Bravo have cast Cera?
Watch the film on YouTube. Did you laugh? I won’t lie: I did, and not a chuckle here and there either; I let out forceful laughs, the kind that come from the gut and that disrupt all conversations in the immediate vicinity. I was far from alone in the theater. That was wrong of us.
When someone in the audience asked Bravo what inspired her to create the story, she explained that she had been eating dinner in a restaurant and watched an awkward blind date between a wheelchair-bound man and an able-bodied woman who had no knowledge of her date’s disability. She overheard the woman calling a friend later to complain about being set up with a disabled person. Bravo felt bad for the guy, and she wanted to portray the day-to-day struggles of a man like that: the looks, the judgement, the rejection.
Feel bad for laughing yet? You were supposed to have watched it already, so remember: *NOT A SPOILER* he sets himself on fire. Maybe you didn’t laugh at that part, which I did, but you probably laughed at a few of the events leading up to it, and they all contributed. So why did we laugh? Two reasons: Michael Cera played Gregory, and we’re judgmental pricks, you and I, but the second reason is more important.
Michael Cera might be the most typecast actor of our era. Every Cera movie I’ve seen has featured him fumble through the seduction/dating process, being awkward to the point that everyone watching cringes.
“I just want to reach out and hug the guy,” you think? That’s another problem, ladies. His characters want more than a hug, but I digress.
I can’t knock anyone for seeing Cera on-screen and immediately assuming he’s still playing his character from Superbad, wheelchair or not. Hollywood films rely on our tendency to behave as “cognitive misers” in their casting, but this isn’t a Hollywood film. Gregory isn’t some dorky suburban kid who longs to experience a woman’s embrace. He’s an impoverished invalid struggling to become his idea of a man. He wants to rely on himself. He wants to feel a woman’s touch not as mere conquest, but as confirmation of his masculinity and adulthood, opposite ends of the magnetic spectrum sticking together because that’s just what they do. Instead of sympathizing with him, we treat him like the other Cera characters, who could all achieve what they desire if they got cloths that actually fit, hit the gym and developed some confidence. If anyone had the right to feel stuck, it was Gregory.
Here’s where things get deep: We laughed because we saw a Cera character and not the actual character, which is a judgement similar to one we might make about anyone stuck in a wheelchair. You wouldn’t have laughed if you had seen him as Gregory instead of a Cera-shorthand. In this way, Bravo has crafted a brilliant psychological experiment. We don’t all mock people with handicaps, and hopefully you wouldn’t if you saw a guy like Gregory on the street, but everything on the film’s surface –the casting, the timing, the camerawork –comes together to make us laugh. If those elements weren’t there, especially Cera, we’d feel sorry for Gregory. It’s all in the story telling process, I suppose. Genius.