Vive la re­volt

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Youth in Re­volt, in­die com­edy, rated R, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 2 chiles

Oh, the suf­fer­ing you ex­pe­ri­ence when you are young and far too so­phis­ti­cated for your peers! It’s a sen­sa­tion that many of us have felt at one time or an­other, though per­haps not as acutely as Nick Twisp— a teenager so awk­ward that Michael Cera was cho­sen to play him in Youth in Re­volt. Nick speaks like an English grad­u­ate stu­dent, lis­tens to Frank Si­na­tra on vinyl, and even watches old for­eign films. When an at­trac­tive girl catches him with Fellini’s La Strada at a video store, he backpedals by say­ing, “How ran­dom!” Poor Nick. If he feels the teenagers of Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, are Philistines, just wait un­til he moves to the Rest­less Axles trailer park up­state.

When the boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis) of Nick’s mother ( Jean Smart) sells a lemon of a car to a trio of an­gry sailors, Nick and com­pany must go on the lam, wind­ing up in the trailer park. It turns out to be the best thing that’s ever hap­pened to Nick. There he meets Sheeni (Por­tia Dou­ble­day), a lovely young Fran­cophile who lives up the road, and he finds a kin­dred spirit in her. He hopes to gain true love with this po­ten­tial soul mate and, per­haps more im­por­tant, lose his much-de­spised vir­gin­ity.

Alas, Nick is so ham­strung by his own hes­i­tancy and con­sid­ered de­meanor— not to men­tion Sheeni’s strict Chris­tian par­ents (M. Em­met Walsh and Mary Kay Place)— that he can’t seal the deal. Geeky girls will go for geeky boys, you see, but the guy still needs to be assertive. So Nick over­com­pen­sates by cre­at­ing an al­ter ego named Fran­cois Dillinger, a bad boy who sports a wispy teenage mus­tache, white pants, and an ever-present cig­a­rette. Fran­cois is a bit too bad, how­ever, and his il­le­gal an­tics get Nick in a whole lot of trou­ble.

Youth in Re­volt is a weird movie, and it’s also a bit too in love with its weird­ness. It’s the kind of film in which road-trip scenes are ren­dered in Clay­ma­tion, car­toons from sex man­u­als come to life, and char­ac­ters prance through the woods to charm­ing in­die-pop mu­sic. As with Juno or Rush­more, it’s re­fresh­ing to watch a teenage ro­man­tic com­edy in which in­tel­li­gence is a trait to be cel­e­brated. It’s also nice to see a movie that dares to be strange. Un­for­tu­nately, for all its strange­ness, Youth in Re­volt doesn’t play more than one or two notes for the en­tire du­ra­tion.

The two young ac­tors play those notes per­fectly, even if Cera is get­ting a bit long in the tooth to play a 16-year-old. Dou­ble­day is pretty and charm­ing and makes it easy to see how a clever teen might fall head over heels for her. The two crazy kids make a pleas­ant pair who seem­ingly es­caped from the set of aWes An­der­son film. The sup­port­ing cast is uni­formly amus­ing. That is to be ex­pected, with ac­tors like Smart, Galifianakis, Walsh, Place, Fred Wil­lard, Steve Buscemi, and Ray Liotta, but I won­dered if the movie would have been bet­ter served with a sup­port­ing cast of straight men to ac­cen­tu­ate the silli­ness of the teenage stars.

Cera is en­ter­tain­ing as ever. No­body is bet­ter at play­ing young men who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and view the world through eyes that re­flect yearn­ing and slight in­com­pre­hen­sion. He reads his lines as though the thoughts just en­tered his char­ac­ter’s mind and the char­ac­ter isn’t sure whether they’re the right things to say. He makes it look as if his char­ac­ters are sim­ply an ex­ten­sion of his own per­sona, but th­ese are the signs of an un­com­monly gifted young comic ac­tor. Hol­ly­wood agrees and has re­warded him with a swift as­cen­sion from sit­com player ( Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment) to film co-star ( Juno, Su­per­bad) and un­likely lead­ing man ( Nick and No­rah’s In­fi­nite Playlist, the up­com­ing Scott Pil­grim vs. the World).

But if you’ll no­tice, all of those films fea­ture what is es­sen­tially the same role. As a young ac­tor, it’s dif­fi­cult to break free from be­ing type­cast as the char­ac­ter you ex­celled at as a teen. Look at Sean­nWil­liam Scott, who still mostly plays vari­a­tions of Amer­i­can Pie’s Sti­fler. But at least Scott is get­ting work, which is more than many for­mer ac­tors in teen come­dies can claim. With Youth in Re­volt, Cera wisely chooses a part in which he plays two char­ac­ters: his typ­i­cal, type­cast role, and its po­lar op­po­site. Fran­cois Dillinger is cool, calm, and in con­trol. Cera di­als his al­ready low-key per­sona down to no-key, and ef­fec­tively swaps out deep yearn­ing for supreme in­dif­fer­ence.

Youth in Re­volt is based on a book by C.D. Payne that was pop­u­lar enough to earn sev­eral se­quels. Judg­ing from open­ing-week­end num­bers, the movie will have no such luck (al­though the film can hardly be blamed for run­ning into the un­stop­pable hit Avatar— an­other film in which a guy as­sumes the form of an al­ter ego to shag a lo­cal cu­tie). Youth is likely too weird for those looking for a main­stream ro­mance or Su­per­bad com­edy. And it is of­ten so dead­pan that the ebbs and flows of con­flict don’t re­ally reg­is­ter. Ul­ti­mately, it will be the kind of thing you see at the video store, and think, How ran­dom.

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