Zac Efron’s career path is inscrutable. From the mid-aughts Disney musicals that first endeared him to millions of tween girls worldwide, to torpid indies set in Florida swamps, to would-be prestige pictures, to inane ensemble rom-coms, to frat-bro bait, Efron’s IMDB profile represents nothing less than the chaos of our very universe, writ small. Garry Marshall films are sandwiched between appearances on Robot Chicken; there are three High School Musicals and one of them actually played in theaters; and he is about to headline a film about a party promoter turned aspiring D.J. titled We Are Your Friends.
As a human, a brand, a Hollywood actor, a fantasy receptacle, Zac Efron seems to have no real plan, or no real confidence in executing one. He told E.W. this much in 2009, after spontaneously dropping out of the Footloose remake for fear of being typecast: “I think the hardest thing about being young and in the business is that a lot of opportunities present themselves and there’s no road map.” You can practically hear him reminiscing about the days when all he had to do was extend a hearty jazz hand to Vanessa Hudgens to pull in crazy bank.
But this tangible fear, this raw insecurity, is what endears us to Efron: he’s a lost little boy who just wants to be loved, and who’ll do anything—including, but not limited to, lettingNicole Kidman pee on him—to find that love. His efforts to find himself are so obvious, so human, that our instinct isn’t to mock him, but to help him. What this means, ultimately, is that we’ll give Efron infinite chances to figure it out.