First and foremost, I need to get this out of the way. The patented Jesse Eisenberg (slash, I guess, Michael Cera) awkward stuttering nerd thing needs to end. Yesterday. I’m not a huge fan of cringe humor to begin with, and one of my least favorite things to do is squirm uncomfortably wishing a scene was over because I’m so embarrassed for the main character. I don’t need Eisenberg to be Suavey McCoolPants, but a little self-possession (which is something I know he can pull off, and I’ll get to that later) would go a long way. The awkward stuttering nerd comes from the same place as the snickering “suspenders-coke-bottle-glasses-Einstein-quote-ha-ha-ha” of bad ’90s sitcoms, and it’s time to move on.
Okay, that being said, I really dug this movie. Is it original or unpredictable? No, but that’s not too important for what it’s trying to do. It’s the kind of movie that knows how to let the set-up breathe, and how to enjoy the set-up for its own sake. It builds up a pretty deep, solid world that sort of casually invites you in, and lets you get swept up without really noticing. It’s shot in these gorgeous but washed out colors, and you can believe that the people who live in this world all exist with varying levels of success at hiding their intrinsic sadness. The characters and their relationships are real and three-dimensional, and I just sort of assumed that they kept happening even when the camera wasn’t on them.
Granted, some of this set-up included establishing how weird and odd everything and everyone was, which was annoying. Except then, the end of the film took advantage of all of this foundation, and used it as a launch pad for something that was really, really emotionally and narratively effective. It stopped relying on its characters as a collection of quirks, and let them become the real people they had been threatening to reveal the whole movie. This, see, is why I know that Eisenberg can actually act – once he was allowed to drop the neurotic social idiot bit, he was able to show some nice depth (and I stopped wanting to stab him with a spork; seriously, pull yourself together, man). The first two thirds of the movie is a tug-of-war between its captivation with its own eccentricity and its underlying sadness, and once it gives into the latter, the whole thing gets exponentially better.
And this is a cast with which it’s worth letting them go for the melancholy. Okay, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were mostly there for comic relief (which I’m fine with, considering how awesome they are together; how cute were they in this clip?), but Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, and, again, Jesse Eisenberg knocked it out of the park. Even Kristen “The Mono-spression” Stewart managed to convince me that it might be okay if she’s not permanently banned from media; I mean, she’s not fantastic, but she made her limitations work for her in creating a character who is closed off and trying to hide how messed up she is. And then, when she actually did blow up, the contrast – and her commitment to the bit – really sold it.
Look, I’ve made no secret of my love for meandering, low-stakes ruminations, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I liked this movie as much as I did. Don’t, by the way, be fooled by the title – yes, they both star Jesse Eisenberg playing basically the same role (okay, I’ll stop now) but no, this movie does not have zombies. But this is a great picture of people who are young, smart, and aimless, and once the movie itself realizes that, it really, really works. I’m not sure I’ll like this so much in ten or even five years, but I kept seeing myself and my friends in the characters, and so I just got this movie. Overall, it’s not by any means transcendent, but it’s also not a bad place to spend an hour and a half.