Youth in Revolt
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Written by: Gustin Nash (screenplay), C.D. Payne (novel)
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Justin Long
Ever since his debut as George-Michael on Arrested Development, Michael Cera has been pigeonholed as the shy, soft-spoken nerd, the awkward outcast who has trouble talking to girls. Whether or not you find him cute and endearing, you have to admit that he suits the role quite well, and has managed to turn in some pretty hilarious performances over the past few years. Still, for some reason people are suddenly insisting that he needs to do something different in order to prove his worth (nevermind the fact that most comedic actors simply play the same role over and over again). Perhaps in response to these people, we now have Youth in Revolt, the next phase in Michael Cera’s evolution! (Sort of.)
Youth in Revolt is being marketed as more of the same from Michael Cera, and understandably so. However, I will tell you this: Youth in Revolt is probably not the movie you think it is. It’s not quite a Superbad-style teen sex romp, nor is it a quirky art house dramedy either. At times it’s very dark, and Michael Cera plays not one but two characters. Whether or not that will be enough to silence his critics remains to be seen, but it does showcase a new side of him that we haven’t seen before. The only problem is that I just didn’t laugh as much as I was hoping to.
The movie is based on a book by C.D. Payne, which, from what I understand, has quite a large cult following. The story centers on Nick Twisp, a 16-year-old virgin whose parents are divorced. When his mother’s boyfriend rips off some sailors, the family decides to take a sudden vacation in order to avoid retribution. At the trailer park, Nick falls in love with a girl named Sheeni Saunders, and when his family eventually returns home, he is determined to be re-united with her. In the hopes of being sent to live with his father, he begins to commit crimes with the help of his alter-ego, FranÃ§ois Dillinger.
Part teen sex comedy, part stoner comedy, and part coming-of-age anthem, Youth in Revolt feels like it could have been the next Juno or Rushmore, if only it had a slightly stronger vision behind it. It doesn’t seem deliberately derivative of either of these films (and indeed, since the book was written in 1993, it pre-dates both of them by quite a bit), but it does explore similar feelings of teen angst and features main characters who act very intelligent for their age to reasonable comedic effect.
Nick and Sheeni bond over French new wave films, for example, but it never feels as forced as Juno’s love of Herschell Gordon Lewis, simply because it all ties into the faux romantic overtones of the film. The soundtrack is similarly folk-y, although it’s not quite as in your face as with recent indie dramedies (interesting to note: both Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi also contributed music to the film). There are even a number of strange animated sequences inserted throughout the film, one of which ties in with Nick’s mushroom trip, but the rest of which feel a bit random and disconnected. Despite some of these obvious similarities, Youth in Revolt has its own distinct energy that is reaching for something different, even if it doesn’t quite get there.
What surprised me most about Youth in Revolt was the stacked supporting cast. In addition to Michael Cera we’ve got Steve Buscemi playing Nick’s father, Zach Galifianakis playing his mother’s trashy trucker boyfriend, and Fred Willard playing the oddball activist neighbour, not to mention Justin Long as Sheeni’s brother and Ray Liotta as the cop with questionable morals. With so much talent on screen at any given time, you know you’re going to get some memorable scenes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of the supporting characters end up being underused, which is unfortunate because Cera seems to work best when he has someone to play off of.
Still, the relationship between Nick and Sheeni is the focus of the movie, and newcomer Portia Doubleday is perfect as Sheeni. She is aloof and desirable without being miserable or mean. As for Michael Cera, his split personality stuff is probably the highlight of the film. The scenes where he plays opposite himself are clever and enjoyable, and his take on the cigarette-smoking French rebel is actually a little creepy at times (okay, mostly due to the coloured contact lenses). I only wish they had gone a little further with this stuff.
There’s no question that the movie is a bit uneven, and not as funny as it probably could have been. It tries to be both raunchy and innocent at the same time, but never quite finds a consistent tone. Anyone hoping for a laugh-a-minute frat boy comedy is likely to be bored through large chunks of this film. Even so, I appreciated the spirit of what Youth in Revolt was trying to do, and I would still recommend it based on the strength of Michael Cera and the supporting cast. As a cynical tribute to raging teen hormones and the foolishness of young love, Youth in Revolt succeeds. — Sean
Recommended If You Like: Juno, Rushmore, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist