sundance 2014

Michael Cera’s Dark, Disturbed Paraplegic Movie Wins Sundance Short Film Award

Photo: Sundance

After watching her deeply grim comic short film, Gregory Go Boom, starring Michael Cera as a paraplegic who tries dating for the first time to disastrous result, people seem to have a lot of things to say to writer-director Janicza Bravo. At a Salt Lake City screening, a man stood up to tell her she had a very dark view of the world and ought to be making documentaries. When Bravo explained the film was not a commentary on paraplegics, per se, but about being dismissed and the harshness of that, and related to her experiences of being black and a woman, a woman backstage thanked her: “I’m glad you said that, because I was just thinking you were a bad person.” Way harsh, random lady.

At least Cera understood, and loved, what Bravo was trying to do. As did the Sundance grand jury, which awarded Gregory Go Boom the top prize for U.S. Fiction in its short-films competition. Cera is the one who personally championed for Bravo and her boyfriend, writer and comedian Brett Gelman, who co-produced Gregory and plays Cera’s unemployed brother, to create content for Jash, the YouTube channel he curates with Tim & Eric, Sarah Silverman, and Reggie Watts.

The idea for the movie came from Bravo and Gelman witnessing an exchange between a man in a wheelchair and a woman who’d been set up on a blind date with him, but hadn’t been told he was in a wheelchair. (She walked out, but then came back and they seemed to have a good time.) Gregory’s adventures go a little differently, involving at one point the acute humiliation of getting shoved out of the window of an elevated house, along with his wheelchair, on a date. It’s an homage to a French short film Bravo loves in which a little boy pushes a giant baguette up a flight of stairs and when he gets to the top, falls out a window, in glee. When Bravo was having trouble conceiving the shot and how to do it safely, it was Cera who insisted on making it work. “He was like, ‘No, no, no, we have to do it,’” Bravo says.

The production was so low budget they had to buy the wheelchair and return it. “I don’t know how well my production manager cleaned it off,” says Bravo. “Or what she said to get them to take it back. Uh, so yeah, that was just for the week when my legs weren’t working.”

Bravo says that Cera was surprisingly adept at using his mechanical wheelchair, so much so that every time they turned around he’d be racing off somewhere at the top speed of fifteen miles per hour. “Sometimes he’d run into walls and hurt himself,” she says. “Every time I turned my back it was Zrrooom! and he’d hit something and we’d be like, ‘Uh-oh, we just killed Michael Cera.’” Good news, he’s still alive — and still has full use of all his limbs. We hope. Has anyone seen Michael Cera lately?

Sundance: Michael Cera’s Dark Paraplegic Film