Justin Timberlake's Movie Career vs. His Music Comeback: Which Will Be Better?

Esther Zuckerman
The Atlantic Wire

Justin Timberlake's decisive celebrity moment, it appears, is very much upon us. Sure, he got married last year and he's never really left the cultural spectrum, but in February he arrives to actually good filmmaking (sorry, In Time) with the new Coen brothers movie, and a month later his much hyped first album in seven years will drop. We've been getting dribs and mostly drabs of what each track of his career might look like this year — including the new Coen brothers trailer today — but let's break down which is really bringing Justin back.

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The Burgeoning Acting Career

Timberlake's performance in The Social Network as Sean Parker made people think that maybe this guy could really become a bonafide "actor" as opposed to an "actor who was once a singer." But there been some iffy choices: He did a tepidly received sci-fi action film and a tepidly received serious drama. Today we got our first look at Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest from the Joel and Ethan Coen. The trailer mostly focuses on Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman. But! There are a couple shots of Timberlake, rocking some 60s sweaters: 

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We have high hopes for this. Not only do the Coens come with an established pedigree, but they've done fine work with American folk music before in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (There is obviously a distinction between the two types of music in these movies, but sixties folk is a descendant of the traditional music in O Brother.) We don't see much of what Timberlake does in this trailer, so we can't comment on his performance, but consensus so far is that the film looks really good for this dead time of the year in movies:

TRAILER: Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Bros movie. I will see this so hard my eyeballs need a helmet. filmdrunk.uproxx.com/2013/01/inside…

— Vince Mancini (@Filmdrunk) January 24, 2013

Haven't been this excited about folk music and a cat well, ever: huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/ins… Thanks Coen Brothers!

— Kelsey Wallace (@KelseyGrammar) January 24, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis was already my most anticipated movie of 2013. More excited now. bit.ly/14dNoGz

— Sean Fennessey (@sean_fennessey) January 24, 2013

Next up, Timberlake has Runner, Runner with Ben Affleck. Per Deadline it's about "the world of offshore online gaming and an increasingly tense relationship between a business founder and his protege." Once a film with Affleck was not such a good sign at all, but he's been winning prizes galore this year for Argo, and this could easily end up being a really, really good choice for J.T. 

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So: despite some duds, Timberlake's movie career is shaping up! 

The Music Anticipation Machine

So, yeah: Didn't everyone just want Justin to make music again? Well, he is. Today he released a "lyric video" for his teased and not that well received song with Jay-Z, "Suit & Tie." In the video, Timberlake's album release date, March 19, flashes for a split second (it's very​ quick), around the... 5:19 mark. Here's a GIF: 

Now, Reuters reported yesterday that Suit & Tie has not done as well on the Billboard digital songs chart as it was expected to. It wasn't that the song was received poorly — it does have its detractors, though — so much as that J.T.'s big comeback is having some roadblocks, the first of which was general annoyance over his annoying teaser for the song. As with his acting career there are some variables up in the air: namely, his first live performance in years, which will go down at an event leading up to the Super Bowl.  

The Verdict

While it may be controversial, we're gonna give this one to his movie career. Though his pipes and dance moves are much loved, Timberlake has just got a lot of hubris in the music arena right now, and it seems to be affecting his fan base. Supporting roles in high-profile films by great directors? That's how you win over the people.