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Short Film Review: Gregory Go Boom

On March 10, 2013, YouTube launched JASH.  Boasting a comedy collective comprised of Michael Cera, Tim & Eric, Sarah Silverman and Reggie Watts, the channel promised original content delivered on a weekly basis.  Most of the comedians brought videos that offered little surprise.  Reggie Watts had fun and strange music, Sarah Silverman threw up content that would have felt at home on her Comedy Central show and Tim & Eric continued to be strange.  Then there was Michael Cera.  This week Cera contributed his second video, the supremely odd short “Gregory Go Boom”.

Gregory (Michael Cera) is a paraplegic.  With nothing but his power wheelchair and a plan, he sets out to enjoy a day out of the house only to find that sometimes the world doesn’t meet your expectations.

I’m not sure if YouTube knew what they were going to get when they snagged Michael Cera for JASH.  Of the five people, Cera is the only one without a proven track record for original content.  People only know Cera as a comedic actor, and a fairly limited one at that.  He is our awkward teenager and it’s a pigeonhole that he is nestled deeply within.  However, Cera seems to have been fighting his way out of this of late.  His last two films, especially “Youth in Revolt”, showed an actor acknowledging his niche and actively pushing against it.  On April 22, the Cera directed “Brazzaville Teen-Ager” was released on JASH, signaling his first contribution to the channel.  The runtime alone was enough to make the typical YouTube viewer do a double take.  This was no cat video; rather it was a 20-minute short film.  The short is decidedly off center, far from mainstream and more dramatic than comedic.  Its inclusion on JASH is confusing.

With “Gregory Go Boom” we are taken even deeper down this rabbit hole.  The short is dark and less comedic than even “Brazzaville Teen-Ager”.  Gregory is a sad and aggressively mean person.  He is dismissive of his sister Rose (Sarah Burns), his lone caregiver, assuredly racist and self involved.  There are little to no attempts made to make this character the least bit likable.  You should feel no obligation to feel for the hardship he goes through because he reinvigorates a belief that bad things happen to bad people.  But that is kind of the point.  Just because someone is disabled does not automatically mean that they are good.  All people are flawed in some way.  In this way, Cera’s performance is deceptively impressive.  The majority of the distaste you develop for Gregory derives from the way he interacts with others.  Sure, he says some awful things, especially during one of his three dates, but it’s the annoyance and vitriol that Cera injects into the words that make the character’s actions believable.

Writer/director Janicza Bravo does an adequate job of making the film as uncomfortable to watch as possible.  The soundtrack features a theme that grates on your ears like nails and chalkboard.  The sound highlights a sense of dread that permeates the short.  You know that something bad is going to happen and you’re just waiting for it to show up.  Any success had by Gregory is expectedly short lived.  Nevertheless, Bravo does just enough to have the audience squirming until the other shoe drops.  Despite the short’s mild success, the beginning is less sure footed.  One segment features “talking heads” that are used only the one time.  Had it been used more often throughout the runtime this trope may have felt more necessary, but as it stands it reads more as a moment that the director did not know how to communicate properly.  Most importantly the ending of the film comes off as confused and disconnected.  It appears suddenly, and while not unexpected, is decidedly unearned.  Yes, it is dark, but it doesn’t seem to understand why.

We all think that we know Michael Cera as a performer.  He is our favorite awkward high school friend, and while this character has begun to annoy some, it is something that Michael Cera does well.  As an actor, Cera does not appear to be happy to rest quietly on his laurels.  JASH has provided an outlet for Cera to show the world that he has a bit more to offer.  “Gregory Go Boom” is a dark and depressing short.  The short will make you uncomfortable with a character that is morally disgusting.  The experience of watching this short is not enjoyable.  Cera delivers a character with no redeeming qualities without making him outlandish.  Why YouTube decided that this should be included as part of its Comedy Week, I will never understand.  I imagine this short will enrage and depress many a commenter.  However, when removed from the context of YouTube Comedy Week, “Gregory Go Boom” is an interestingly dark and ominous short that will make you view Michael Cera completely differently.

Get more from Derek by following him on Twitter @DerekDeskins.

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