Last Updated on January 24, 2024
PLOT: A man (Sebastian Stan) with a rare condition that resulted in severe facial deformities undergoes an experimental treatment which leaves him with a new face.
REVIEW: Aaron Schimberg’s A Different Man is a blackly comic deconstruction of identity. It examines how suddenly waking up with a perfect face may, initially, be exciting but can’t permanently cure what’s under the skin and in the soul. While that sounds saccharine, Schimberg’s movie puts that message across in a surrealistic way that mainly works until a bizarre epilogue stretches the premise a tad too far.
Sebastian Stan is terrific in his meatiest role to date. The movie starts with him buried under layers of makeup as Edward, who seems to be afflicted with a condition similar to neurofibromatosis. He’s a contact object of curiosity and pity for those around him while he lives a quiet life in a decaying New York apartment. He pines for his pretty next-door neighbour, played by Renate Reinsve, while trying to make a career as an actor, only finding minor roles that cast him because of his facial differences.
Of course, Edward soon undergoes a procedure that leaves him looking like Sebastian Stan, which transforms his life overnight, but he can’t get over a certain pining for his former life. While the old neighbour decides to mount an off-Broadway tragedy about his different life, he talks his way into playing the role on stage. His perception of his former life is soon shaken up when he meets Adam Pearson’s Oswald. Like Oswald, Pearson suffers from neurofibromatosis, but unlike Edward, he seems perfectly content with his lot in life and is a positive, upbeat character. Of course, this drives the still self-pitying Edward crazy.
It’s a layered role for Stan, with him having to play the shy, withdrawn and sad Edward while still evoking that despite his new good looks, he’s still the same guy deep down. He plays the black comedy aspect very well, while Reinsve, the star of The Worst Person in The World, has a good part as the object of his affection, who has her own blindspots and a vacuous, selfish streak. Best of all is Pearson, who also starred in Schimberg’s last movie, Chained for Life. Ultra-charismatic and charming, Oswald is everything Edward is not, with the notion that not everything in life comes down to looks. Edward has dreamed of being good-looking, thinking that would give him everything he wants, but that’s only half true.
Schimberg does a good job conveying the loneliness of Edward’s life, both before and after the transformation, without evoking any sense of pity for the character. He also casts several actors with facial differences and satirizes how well-meaning people may patronize those with differences. The makeup conveying Edward’s condition is excellent but also serves as a sly commentary on how even the best makeup can’t evoke what a person with that condition looks like, which becomes all the more apparent when Pearson enters.
However, the film goes on about ten minutes too long, with a bizarre epilogue setting the film off towards an anti-climactic conclusion that dilutes some of the impact of what we’ve just seen. Nevertheless, it’s still a thoughtful, intelligent, and sometimes quite funny film, boasting a trio of terrific performances, with Stan at his best.