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Michael Cera Has Always Been That Guy

From Juno to Barbie, the king of derpy charm never misses.

Michael Cera's roles, ranked
Collage by Ashley Peña

There is Michael Cera before playing Allan in Barbie and Michael Cera after. His work has appealed to the masses before, but never underestimate the unrivaled power of teenage girls, grown gay men, or a queer-coded Greta Gerwig character. I hate to be crass but I love to be frank. That sound you hear? Yeah, it’s underwear hitting the floor due particularly to his latest role. Even Mattel noticed the uptick in interest and raised the prices on the formerly discontinued Allan doll. Part of the magic of Allan was that only Michael Cera could play him like that. Yes, I’m looking at you Jonathan Groff, take a hike.

There’s just something about Michel Cera. He has a softness and a charm to him, while being a little weirdo. He is exceptional at his ability to play someone perfectly mid. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. He’s got the energy of the boy you cheated off of in math class, who knew but didn’t mind. He reads like a guy who plays an instrument for pleasure, not attention—think less the Ken school of seduction and closer to that one guy from Rooney in Princess Diaries. He loves to play a sweet, shy, slightly brokenhearted nerd who sings for some reason, but only in a off-key falsetto, who never talks above a certain decibel. I love when a man’s speaking voice hovers slightly above a whisper. Subtitles? On. Panties? Off.

But what is it about this average looking, off-the-grid actor that makes everyone fall to their knees? Well, there’s nothing more appealing than a celebrity uninterested in being famous (see: Cillian Murphy). Cera mostly picks up smaller movies or smaller parts; Barbie has been his most classically commercial film since Superbad in 2007. He’s offline. He owns a flip phone. He dances like this. He’s busy being a new dad. He has a face of a man that takes his time. Are you getting all this? Even with a few blockbusters under his belt, he’s an indie darling at heart. There’s a character he knows how to play and he does it so well. The role? Just some guy. Sometimes even just himself (in the Paper Hearts way, not This is the End). Cera is a natural star, and he doesn’t need to fight for it nor does he try. He can prove it in whatever amount of screentime you hand him. It’s his unassuming demeanor, quiet facial cues, and derpy charm that lands him in these iconic roles and into many hearts.

In order to honor my man, my Michael, my Allan, I took an unprecedented amount of time to rank some of Cera’s best roles. Please don’t fight me, I’m fragile.

7) Superbad & This Is The End

Michael Cera & Jonah Hill in Superbad


Now I know these are two different films but for the sake of my time and my sanity, I find it necessary to combine the bro comedy movies into one. This Is the End gets a mention for the way Rihanna slaps Cera across the face. Superbad gets a nod for obvious reasons but specifically due to Cera dancing for an hour straight for the DVD menu (archival footage I have yet to find all of) and the scene of him singing while everyone else is snorting cocaine and mixing him up with somebody’s cousin.

6) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


While something about the fanbase of this movie feels haunted to me—and I can’t co-sign the premise, specifically the 17-year-old girl aspect of it all, it’s undeniably a fun watch with a stacked cast. Cera fights, sings, stares blankly, pouts over Brie Larson and fawns over Sky High’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead. He’s just like me forreal.

This movie was a bit too empowering for nerds, twinks, and vegans alike (none of which are mutually exclusive). But bisexuality would not exist without Cera and Aubrey Plaza’s fleeting romance. Few things take up as much space in my brain as this one photo of Plaza, Cera, and a sea of fans at Chuck E. Cheese, or the fact that the pair almost got married just to get divorced as a bit. Their minds.

5) Paper Heart

Michael Cera & Charlene Yi in Paper Hearts


This might be a deep cut, but I sincerely love this movie. It’s a warm story filled with soft laughs, Jake Johnson, and a bunch of strangers proving love is real. No idea where Charlyne Yi is now, but she and Cera had such great chemistry. I don’t remember where I was when I found out their tender on-screen relationship wasn’t real, but I recall the feeling cutting deep.

4) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera & Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Okay this film is goofy, I know. Don’t ask why it’s ranked so high, this isn’t the Criterion Collection, it’s my opinion! Though the side characters carry this movie, namely Ari Graynor and her gum and Alexis Dziena and her seductive dance on the hood of Cera’s car, Michael is disgustingly charming, a bit sheepish, silly, and perfectly sweet in this film, even as he drives away amidst the aformentioned dance scene. This is a movie you probably only watch on a plane, but Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is everything good and simple about the early aughts indie films, Vampire Weekend songs included.

3) Barbie

Michael Cera in Barbie

Warner Bros

The Barbie movie gave us many gifts: Margot Robbie’s tear ducts working overtime, the fact that she can hold a plank position the longest of the cast, Ryan Goslings pectorals, Century City slander, Robbie and America Ferrera both confirming Simu Liu is a himbo, and of course Cera as Allan. No one could have played this role like him. He leaned in. He committed to the bit. He did it with his chest. Allan is not a man, not a Ken, not a Barbie. Allan is everything. Everyone else is just Ken. There’s only one of him and only one of Cera, so everyone back the hell up...

2) Arrested Development

Michael Cera & Jason Bateman in Arrested Development


To be very specific, the original show is what I am ranking this high, not the reboot. No more reboots. But George Michael Bluth? A certified freak seven days a week. The cousin crush was canon. Where would we as a society be without that one gif of him falling to the ground?

1) Juno

Michael Cera in Juno


I was his the minute he said “Wizard.” I had never heard that exclamation before, but it was instantly part of my vocabulary and so he was part of my life. Teens growing up could call themselves bilingual if they knew any language alongside whatever the hell all the slang was in Juno. This breakout hit was such a formative film for an entire generation, and Paulie Bleeker, played by Cera—with those little yellow running shorts and matching sweatbands—did a number on every middle school girl I knew. At the very least, I’m sure Tic Tac stock went up a little! Don’t get me started on his and Elliot Page’s cover of The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else But You” during the film credits. That cover stayed on repeat in my head and heart. I’m starting to think it’s in his contract to sing a little song. Michael Cera’s rider? Probably an acoustic guitar.

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