Sebastian Stan undergoes a remarkable transformation in the unsettling drama “A Different Man.”

The actor stars alongside Adam Pearson and Renate Reinsve in this peculiar A24 film, centered around a man with facial deformities who undergoes an enigmatic medical procedure.

Sebastian Stan may be widely recognized as the Marvel hero Bucky Barnes, but beyond his endeavors of punching villains with a cybernetic arm, the 41-year-old actor has gradually built a captivating and diverse portfolio. Over the past few years, Stan has portrayed a charming cannibal in “Fresh,” the notorious rocker Tommy Lee in “Pam and Tommy,” and Tonya Harding’s infamous, mustachioed ex-husband in “I, Tonya” — all stark deviations from his typical superhero ventures. However, with his latest project, Aaron Schimberg’s unsettling dramedy “A Different Man,” Stan delves into an even more peculiar role and delivers what could arguably be his most unforgettable performance to date.

A Different Man,” which premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, features Stan as Edward, a timid aspiring actor afflicted with facial deformities. (Stan portrays the character while adorned with multiple layers of heavy prosthetics.) Edward’s neurofibromatosis diagnosis causes his face to swell with protruding tumors, and he spends most of his days isolated in his dreary apartment, disregarding the expanding hole that’s decaying through his ceiling. A glimmer of hope emerges in the arrival of his new neighbor Ingrid (Renate Reinsve from “The Worst Person in the World”): He’s an actor, she’s a playwright, and together, they develop a warm friendship, even as Edward yearns for something more.

Eventually, Edward decides to enroll in an experimental medical trial that pledges to alter his face permanently. Soon after, he undergoes a gruesome transformation scene, spouting blood and shedding his old skin in a manner reminiscent of David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” With his new appearance, Edward now resembles Sebastian Stan precisely, prompting him to fabricate his demise and assume a new identity as a sophisticated real estate agent named “Guy.”

But even with a new identity and an attractive new appearance, Guy finds it difficult to completely distance himself from Edward. Before long, he auditions for one of Ingrid’s off-Broadway plays (without her knowing it’s him), hoping to secure the lead role of — unsurprisingly — Edward. In a peculiar turn of events, he ends up wearing a mask to portray a fictionalized version of his former self, someone he no longer resembles. Adding to the complexity is the arrival of the charming Oswald (portrayed by British actor Adam Pearson, who has neurofibromatosis in real life and starred in Schimberg’s previous film “Chained for Life”). Oswald possesses the facial features that Edward was so eager to discard, yet he exudes a confidence and charisma that leave Edward perplexed. Eventually, Guy/Edward grapples with existential questions about identity and self, gradually realizing that perhaps he can’t attribute his past life solely to his former appearance.

It’s a peculiar and convoluted narrative, and Schimberg peppers his script with surreal and unforgettable imagery — such as a scene where an ice cream truck maneuvers around paramedics loading a corpse into an ambulance. These moments are unsettling and impactful, yet they don’t always seamlessly integrate into a cohesive whole, feeling more like whimsical diversions. Moreover, the film traverses multiple genres, not always with smooth transitions, initially presenting itself as a contemplative indie dramedy before delving into gruesome body horror as Edward undergoes his transformation. Then, in the final act, it pivots once more towards broader absurdist comedy as Oswald and Edward confront each other. For a narrative so heavily focused on identity, the film itself grapples with its own identity crisis at times.

Despite its disjointed tone, it’s Stan, Pearson, and Reinsve who shine in “A Different Man.” During a post-screening Q&A, Schimberg elaborated on his desire to challenge the discourse surrounding the casting of disabled characters, questioning whether it’s better to cast an able-bodied actor in prosthetics or to cast a disabled actor potentially at risk of tokenization. Instead, he aimed to pursue both approaches, and Pearson and Stan deliver standout performances in their scenes together, with Guy visibly bristling each time Oswald charms another acquaintance or showcases his hidden karaoke talents. Reinsve also injects a delightfully manic narcissism into her portrayal of Ingrid, who’s captivated by Edward but struggles to silence herself long enough to allow him to tell his own story. The end result is a messy yet memorable endeavor, with Stan, Pearson, and Reinsve delivering performances that penetrate far beneath the surface.

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