A Different Man


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Different Man
"Slippery in terms of genre and form, the writer/director’s satire puts all his characters and, by extension, us under close scrutiny." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Aaron Schimberg takes an in your face approach to questions of both physical and perceived identity with his latest film. Slippery in terms of genre and form, the writer/director’s satire puts all his characters and, by extension, us under close scrutiny.

Edward (Sebastian Stan) has neurofibromatosis – a condition which has left him with facial tumours and which, he believes, has resulted in him being unable to achieve the heights that he should in his acting career. Instead, he’s taking jobs like his current one, which is a role in a cringe-inducing educational video for office workers aimed at reducing prejudice.

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Living in the sort of dingy New York apartment that hardly ever makes it into movies these days, Edward’s grievance against the world is only further highlighted by the arrival of his new neighbour Ingrid (Renate Reinsve, the Norwegian star of The Worst Person In The World, who with this and Another End is fast becoming sought after for English language films as well as in her homeland). Leaning into the theory that nothing is unusual so far as New Yorkers are concerned, Edward is pretty much treated with little more than a second glance by those who know him, and wannabe playwright Ingrid provides a flirtatious frisson – her motivations increasingly ambiguous as the film rolls along.

The humour, which has a Charlie Kauffman-esque surreality, highlights the everyday absurdities of life in a city like New York. But the laughs become significantly more barbed after Edward gets the opportunity to, essentially, shed his skin and become what he believes will be a different person. As Edward takes part in a drug trial, Schimberg dips into body horror queasiness as the tumours fall away and the real face of Stan is revealed.

Suddenly, a whole new life opens up for Edward – or at least that’s what he thinks will happen. He adopts the name Guy – a delightful nod to how generic he’s aiming to be – and finds a niche in real estate. When it turns out that Ingrid has been writing a play based on her interactions with the old him, he’s desperate for the part, which he aims to play with a prosthesis. But things begin to unravel with the arrival of the upbeat and charming Oswald (Adam Pearson, who previously collaborated with Schimberg on Chained For Life) who, unlike Edward, has never let his own neurofibromatosis hold him back.

There’s a lot going on in Schimberg’s film and sometimes the ideas, like Edward and Oswald, feel as though they’re in a tussle for the limelight, especially with the layering in of a play within the film. But the filmmaker is also bracing in his approach to the various elements of this subject – not least the idea that all humans are internally flawed whatever they may look like. We’re asked not only to interrogate long-established and over-simplistic beauty/beast dichotomies but also to consider more modern questions surrounding representation; who gets to shape and tell these stories and represent disability in art?

Stan won the acting Silver Bear in Berlin for his portrayal of the slow disintegration as Edward but though Schimberg keeps us in his headspace, all of the characters are drawn in detail and well-played.

Beyond the central themes there are some lovely touches of craft. Mike Marino’s prosthetics work is excellent, Umberto Smerilli’s jazz-inflected score constantly inventive and the production and costume design work in conspiratorial harmony at key moments, such as when Edward/Guy’s shirt is perfectly matched to items in his apartment including the kitchen roll and bedding. Schimberg cracks the mirror from side to side and asks us to take a good, long look at it.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2024
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Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical medical trial to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare.

Director: Aaron Schimberg

Writer: Aaron Schimberg

Starring: Sebastian Stan, Renate Reinsve, Owen Kline, Adam Pearson, Marc Geller, Lawrence Arancio, Billy Griffith, Eleanore Pienta, John Keating, Juney Smith, Sergio Delavicci, Miles G. Jackson, Martin Ewens, Neal Davidson, Trenton Hudson

Year: 2024

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: US

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