Keith Staskiewicz
May 03, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Far more actors think they can direct than actually can. But mumble-mouthed prince of awkward comedy Michael Cera displays real promise with his debut short, Brazzaville Teen-ager, a surprisingly moving and well-made slice of deadpan oddness.

Available on the newly launched YouTube channel JASH, which specializes in original comedic videos from folks like Sarah Silverman and Tim Heidecker, Cera’s 20-minute contribution is worth watching. Less concerned with laughs than tone, Brazzaville adapts a 1966 short story by Bruce Jay Friedman about a man who tries to deal with his father’s illness by staging a wholly illogical act: getting his grim-faced boss to sing backup vocals on a doo-wop track. Cera updates the song by casting pop star Kelis (who plays herself), and he manages to deliver a film that’s as sweetly understated and endearingly cringeworthy as the characters he usually plays. (Charles Grodin also shows up as the ailing dad.) Friedman was one of the writers responsible for coining the concept of ”black humor.” With this, Cera proves that he’s a worthy successor. A-

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