Sebastian Stan, widely recognized as Marvel’s Bucky Barnes, has expanded his repertoire beyond superhero roles in recent years. With diverse performances such as a charming cannibal in “Fresh,” iconic rocker Tommy Lee in “Pam and Tommy,” and Tonya Harding’s ex-husband in “I, Tonya,” Stan showcases his versatility. His latest venture, Aaron Schimberg’s unsettling dramedy “A Different Man,” unveiled at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, features Stan in what could be his most memorable role to date.
In “A Different Man,” Stan portrays Edward, an aspiring actor with facial deformities caused by neurofibromatosis, necessitating heavy prosthetics. Edward’s solitary life in a dilapidated apartment takes an unexpected turn when he befriends his new neighbor, Ingrid (Renate Reinsve), a playwright. Despite longing for more, Edward and Ingrid form a warm connection. The plot unfolds as Edward decides to undergo an experimental medical trial, leading to a grotesque transformation reminiscent of David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” With a new face resembling Sebastian Stan, Edward reinvents himself as a suave real estate agent named “Guy.”
Despite the new identity, Guy struggles to completely escape Edward’s shadow. Auditioning for one of Ingrid’s plays, he ends up playing a fictionalized version of his former self, complicating matters. The arrival of Oswald (Adam Pearson), a charismatic individual with neurofibromatosis, challenges Guy’s perception of identity. As the narrative weaves through genres, from indie dramedy to gory body horror and absurdist comedy, the film grapples with an identity crisis of its own.
While the film’s tone feels disjointed at times, the standout performances of Stan, Pearson, and Reinsve elevate “A Different Man.” Schimberg, aiming to subvert casting discussions around disabled characters, successfully incorporates both abled and disabled actors. Stan and Pearson deliver compelling scenes together, highlighting the tension between Guy and Oswald. Reinsve adds a delightful touch with her portrayal of the eccentric Ingrid. Despite the film’s messy nature, the trio’s performances resonate beyond surface-level considerations. Overall, “A Different Man” earns a grade of B-.