Jay Baruchel should be more famous. From his twitchy and maniacal Led Zeppelin fan in Almost Famous to his twitchy and earnest college freshman in the criminally under-rated Undeclared to his twitchy and affecting mentally challenged boxer in Million Dollar Baby, Mr. Baruchel’s performances have always been interesting and, well, twitchy. With his lanky frame and squinty eyes, he looks like Paul Rudd’s Canadian kid brother, but with an undercurrent of sweet insecurity. Mr. Baruchel was basically doing the “Michael Cera routine” before Michael Cera even existed.
In last summer’s smash Knocked Up where he co-starred as one Seth Rogen’s stoner pals, he appeared to turn a corner. On first viewing, his performance faded into the background amidst bigger and more blustery supporting turns from Jonah Hill and Jason Segal. But in watching Knocked Up again and again and again (could it be on cable any more often?) Mr. Baruchel exudes a quality that none of the other friends in the movie seem to possess: he acts like he has a conscience.
And that brings us to Tropic Thunder, which is way funnier than it has any right to be mostly because of Jay Baruchel’s presence. As Kevin Sandusky, drama school graduate and newbie to the acting realm, Mr. Baruchel absolutely heists the movie from his scenery-chewing A-list co-stars, sometimes with nothing more than a reaction shot. He doesn’t have a crutch for his performance to fall back on–there isn’t the gimmick of Robert Downey, Jr. in black face or of Tom f’n Cruise cursing up a storm in a fat suit and bald cap. Mr. Baruchel just has to play it totally straight, rationally making heads or tails of the over-the-top farce that is going on around him. And he nails it, without even twitching, doing what he now seems to do best–playing a believable human being. It’s really the comedy performance of the summer, if only because of its sheer simplicity.
Between Tropic Thunder and his against type cameo as a bully rival to the aforementioned Michael Cera in October’s Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, it finally might be time for Mr. Baruchel to get into the spotlight. And to that, we say huzzah! Seriously, if Seth Rogen and Jason Segal can get their faces on a one-sheet, why not Jay Baruchel?