Vive la revolt
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.