People openly laugh at me when I suggest that Zac Efron is a good actor. Of course, that’s aside from the fan-girls who have grown up with him on their walls and in their hearts.
I admit; it’s hard to look past his perfect smile and incredibly chiseled stomach. It does beg the question – is he an android? A being designed to exemplify everything we look for in a virulent young human man and/or a Ken doll?
But even if he does resemble a Greek god and has starred in not one but three different High School Musical (2006-2008) films, it doesn’t mean he’s a poor actor – quite the contrary, in fact. Each of these films is a rip-off, in varying degrees, of Grease, and you won’t be surprised to find out that they’re terrible. Featuring dialogue like, “You got it coach, I mean… Dad.”
Yet, Zac Efron, when he’s on screen, actually makes these films almost watchable. He is an actor with heart, sense of humour and a remarkable charisma, and most importantly – he is fully committed. And I’m sure even now you think I must be crazy, but think for a second how hard it is to get up and speak in front of people. Now watch what Zac Efron had to do (2:20 in particular):
And then again…
It’s easy to laugh at Zac Efron emoting at his own image in a CGI pond, and I have – many, many times. But after I finished laughing, it occurred to me that Zac wasn’t, not at any point. Here you have an actor that is going to be pretty much universally mocked for what he’s doing, but it’s not holding him back.
Say what you will, but Zac Efron is giving these scenes everything he’s has – if he’s laughing inside, it doesn’t show.
And it occurred to me that though I was laughing, I wasn’t actually laughing at Zac Efron, but the scenes in general. Who was the person who thought, “You know what will be great? Let’s have him sing to his reflection in a pond on a golf course. Because who hasn’t done that before?!”
I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve seen Twilight. It’s pretty evident that Robert Pattinson hates every moment of it. It makes the movie suffer (do Vampires suffer?) and you’ve got to wonder if the people paying him at all regretted their decision. If they’d cast Zac Efron they might have made… well, not good films but… less awful ones?
Zac’s next film was the much, much better received Hairspray (2007), followed by 17 Again (2009). It’s a relatively inoffensive comedy aimed at teenagers; it’s not a particularly good movie, but it’s funny in parts and certainly watchable. The producers can credit Efron for this. It has a 55% rating on rottentomatoes.com and its consensus reads, “Though it uses a well-worn formula, 17 Again has just enough Zac Efron charm to result in a harmless, pleasurable teen comedy.”
So, my case so far seems to be pretty much that he makes bad movies a little better. And when there’s no possible chance of making a movie better, he still gives it his all.
Enter Charlie St. Cloud (2010). This is a film about a high school graduate trying to pick a college. On one fateful night, his little brother, whom he had been teaching baseball, dies in an accident. But don’t worry – Charlie, played by the one and one only Efron, can see his late brother’s ghost, and continues to play catch with him. But is the memory of his brother holding him back from romance, and a bright academic future?
Yes, the film is just as great as you think. He laughs, he cries, he sails, he argues with Ray Liotta and performs a daring shirtless underwater rescue. It’s a ridiculous movie that panders right to Zac Efron’s fan base. But he has a unique earnestness that can’t be dampened by this epically schmaltzy affair. It holds a whopping 27% on rottentomatoes.com, and its consensus reads, “Zac Efron gives it his all, but Charlie St. Cloud is too shallow and cloying to offer much more than eye candy for his fans.”
With some actors, their performances vary depending on the director they are working with. Natalie Portman, for example, is capable of giving great performances, but it’s not a guarantee. Her performance in each of the Star Wars prequels is no better than Hayden Christensen’s, and quite possibly worse; yet, she’s great in Black Swan and Closer. Halle Berry is very affecting in Monster’s Ball, but have you seen Die Another Day? She’s the worst Bond girl since Denise Richards brought us Dr. Christmas Jones.
The same cannot be said of Zac Efron. He gives every role all he’s got – regardless of if he’s being peed on by Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy (2012) or singing to his reflection in a CGI pond. I encourage everyone who reads this to give his films another look, or maybe even a first look.
In ten years, when everyone is calling him the next Gosling, or perhaps even DiCaprio, you heard it here first.