Sundance Review: ‘A Different Man’

Sebastian Stan's Rise Continues As A Paranoid Man With Disabilities in A24's Latest Artistic Darling

For the last three years, Sebastian Stan has played various degrees of fucked up characters in between his time portraying Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s been a cannibal and human trafficker in Fresh, Tommy Lee in Pam and Tommy, a bipolar deadbeat dad in Monday, and a morally questionable billionaire in Dumb Money. At the time I’m writing this, he is currently filming The Apprentice, a biopic focusing on the relationship between Donald Trump and his mentor Roy Cohn. Stan plays the former president.

Stan’s newest film, A24’s A Different Man, is his best work to date, on par with his performances in I, Tonya and the aforementioned Fresh. He plays Edward, a lonely actor living with Neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes facial differences. When we meet him, he is terrified to interact with the world, keeping to himself as he tries to live his life. When a pretty new neighbor Ingrid (Renate Reinsve) moves in next door and strikes up a friendship with him, Edward decides to be a part of a clinical trial that could clear him of his facial difference. When it does, he declares Edward dead, moving out of his apartment, quitting acting, and selling real estate. 

The first two acts are where Stan’s talent shines through. Every movement from his walk to a head tilt, feels thought out and purposeful and adds to Edward’s journey.  This role proves what I’ve been saying for years that Stan is the most methodical actor of our time. As Edward literally sheds his former skin and gains a newfound entitlement and freedom in the world, he finds out that Ingrid has written a play about his former self. Unable to keep himself away he auditions with a mask and gets the part, only for his own jealousy and paranoia to lead to his destruction with the arrival of Oswald (Adam Pearson), a man with his former condition. 

What director Aaron Schimberg does with representation in this film is radical. The trends for portraying actors with disabilities tend to be either hire someone with that condition, which can seem exploitative, or hire a big celebrity star which doesn’t seem authentic to audiences. Here, Schimberg does both. Because Edward loses his facial difference, albeit in a very bloody and painful way, the director can hire a well-known actor while keeping the film authentic. It’s worth mentioning that Michael Marino creates some of the most realistic prosthetic work I have ever seen. It would be a travesty if he were not in the 2024 Oscar conversation. 

Schimberg takes some big swings in the third act that disrupt the tone of his film. As Edward’s behavior becomes more erratic, some of his character’s choices make less and less sense. The first two acts of this movie feel completely separate from the third for that reason. These choices leave you rattled, rather than satisfied, wanting more for Edward’s character than Schimberg gave him.

While this is Stan’s best role to date, I can’t help but wonder if he is capable of a lighter role. We’ve seen him on this trajectory of playing psychologically twisted, disturbed, and morally gray characters for years now. I believe he can play a lead in a light musical, like Ryan Gosling’s role in Barbie, or even a traditional part in a romantic comedy. Stan is brilliant in A Different Man, but I can’t help but wonder if he is willing to go in a different, lighter direction.

A24 will release A Different Man, likely later this year.


'A Different Man'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
sundance-review-a-different-manSebastian Stan uphill rise continues as he steps into the shoes of a man struggling with a dramatic medical decision.