Like me, you may be continually astonished at how the young, physically underdeveloped and slender Jewish actor Jesse Eisenberg has been marking himself as one of the next “go to” Jewish creatives, with a strong and diverse resume that seems it will only get better with age.
Eisenberg was the latest smart-boy Jewish movie actor to hit the mainstream, but he wasn’t neurotic, like the young Dustin Hoffman; or self-deprecating, like the young Woody Allen; or bumptious, like Ben Stiller. He’s openly demanding, a nerd hiding his fears behind aggression. Richard Dreyfuss did something similar, but Eisenberg is more nuanced. His indelible performance as Mark Zuckerberg, in “The Social Network,” suggested that a new kind of personality had entered the world, a code-based brainiac who deals with life as if it were data. Racing through Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script, Eisenberg short-circuits or wrong-foots other people. Yet, on second viewing, you can see that for all his bullying speed, and the smirking put-downs, he ruffles the surface of Zuckerberg’s confidence and reveals an easily wounded temperament underneath. Eisenberg is an economical actor, often relying on no more than a flutter of his eyelids, or a half smile, or a sweet glance that shades into contempt. He is unafraid to play jerks, solipsists, narcissists.
He is also an accomplished playwright, contributor to The New Yorker, and has had two of the most noted male film performances in the past decade: playing Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” (my pick for best film of 2010, in large part due to Zuckerberg) and the son in Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” (2005). In fact, he played Zuckerberg so well that it took more than a year for the real Zuckerberg to re-instate his own persona to the public. Now, that’s acting.
(Note: Zuckerberg grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey, which is just a short bike ride from my home town of Highland Park. But, like the best New Jerseyans, he has both kept a certain “New Jersey” core – intellectual, verbal, thoughtful, internal – as well as transcended his childhood.)