I don’t understand why people always want to compare Jesse Eisenberg to Michael Cera. Yes, the two sound somewhat similar, but they’re very different actors. This was illustrated to me today by watching Superbad (2007, and I had it on in the background, so I’m not going to write it up for this blog), which stars Cera, and Zombieland, which was the other half of Eisenberg’s “theme-park-set movies from 2009 that have ‘land’ in the title” duology. I like Michael Cera quite a bit, but he doesn’t seem to play variations on his persona as well as Eisenberg. Michael Cera tends to play Michael Cera, wheras Jesse Eisenberg plays characters that kind of sound the same/come from the same place. Put it another way: Would Michael Cera do Holy Rollers?
I fully admit, though, that my affection for Eisenberg has to do with the fact he’s starred in some of my favorite movies. Adventureland, aka “the one where I kick myself through its running time realizing this is how my summer camp movie should have been”, was very nearly my favorite film of 2009 (it went to Antichrist, and I’ve watched In The Loop more than any other film from that year), and The Squid and the Whale was not only my favorite film of the 00s, but is in my top ten of all time. Eisenberg’s so good in that, and it remains astonishing that an actor can be that young and that brave, to be that unsympathetic at times, without concern that it might hurt his career as a leading man (which is what Cera seems to want to be). I’m already hearing Oscar talk for him coming off his performance in The Social Network, which wouldn’t be surprising at all, because he’s not one of those actors that you think of as one of the best of his generation (Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster Karate Explosion), but he’s up there.
Much like the people who want to compare Michael Cera to Eisenberg because they share similar characteristics, I read quite a bit on the internet comparing and contrasting Zombieland to Shaun of the Dead (2004, another Best of the Decade lister), as if there was room for only one zombie comedy in people’s hearts. Zombieland is not Shaun of the Dead, but then again, few things are.
If you can get past the fact that Zombieland, like Shaun, is a comedy first and a zombie movie second, you’ll have fun with this one. It made me laugh very hard in spots, and while it takes a little while to get going (I don’t think the movie really gels until all four leads are on the road together), I had a smile on my face throughout. Woody Harrelson might be doing career best work here — his performance is both hilarious and touching; I’d compare it to James Franco in Pinapple Express when it comes to the layers he adds. Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin shows she’s got some great comic timing (one of her lines destroyed me) and made me hope that she can transition into teenage and adult roles. Emma Stone, who was also in Superbad, doesn’t have as much to do as the other three leads, but she’s got a great deadpan delivery that serves her well. And if you couldn’t guess from the first half of this blog, I liked Eisenberg a lot in it.
The film isn’t all belly laughs. It does a wonderful job of setting up the world and its rules, as well as never letting you forget the very real danger these characters are in. That lends the climax, set in the aformentioned amusement park, an appropriate suspense and believability. Beyond that, has some well-shot, well-thought out action that doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid. One of the things I appreciated most about Zombieland was its clear geography of its scenes; I always knew where a character was in relation to the other characters as the action cut from one part of the park to the other.
I dug it, and I think it might wind up alongside In The Loop and Superbad as one of those movies to throw on when you want to watch something, you want to laugh, but you want to see something you’ve seen before.