Youth in Revolt
Michael Cera is just an immensely likable kid. I say “kid” knowing full well he’s 22 years old now, capable of drinking, smoking and voting, but considering his young features – and uncanny resemblance to Jesse Eisenberg – he’ll be playing the roles of the lovable, awkward kid for years to come. But, as we’ve seen since “Arrested Development” and now with the surprisingly good YOUTH IN REVOLT, that’s okay. That’s his thing. And while most will speak ill of an actor who plays similar roles all the time, I’ve never had a problem with it as long as I’m still entertained. The gimmick employed by YOUTH IN REVOLT allows Cera’s character, Nick Twisp (and perhaps Cera himself), to form an alter ego in direct contradiction to that nice guy persona and Cera pulls that off too with comedic aplomb.
What was surprising about this film is how good it was considering it followed a pretty formulaic premise: the geeky kid’s quest to lose his virginity. This has been done so many times it’s beyond cliché, but Arteta frames the character of Nick Twisp – and Cera plays him as so likable – we’re invested in his plight from the start. Nick is an intellectual kid trapped in a largely unchallenging environment, lamenting his virginity with his friend Lefty (a funny small part for a young actor in Erik Knudsen). His mother (Jean Smart) has a revolving door of unsuitable suitors (Zach Galifinakis, Ray Liotta) and his father (Steve Buscemi) is dating a girl about a biscuit older than Nick and enjoying it adamantly, exacerbating his virginity that much more. On a vacation with his mother and her boyfriend, on the lam from some shady dealings, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Due to her sophisticated sense of humor, knowledge of French films and of course her beauty, Nick falls in love with her. She returns his feelings and their brief romance is sweet. But alas, Nick must move back to Berkeley and leave his lady love.
There is competition for Sheeni’s heart, however, and an extended time apart could allow the dreaded Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) to move in on his girl. So Nick devises a plan to be with her, but to carry it out he must develop the evil persona Francois Dillinger. The misadventures of Francois’ plans and how Nick reacts to them, make up the rest of the film. Such misadventures include a large community fire, a road trip to an exclusively French-speaking school, and a mushroom trip courtesy of Sheeni’s brother (Justin Long). The film is based on the book Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp, so its inclusion of the different stories in different locales is easily explained and Arteta ties them together well, except for the odd, yet funny, road trip scene that looks like it was shot using stop-motion and construction paper.
The supporting roles throughout the film are great and add unexpected depth to the storyline. Jean Smart plays Nick’s mother not as a sexpot, but as a divorced mother in need of men for security, finding a couple of funny sleazebags in Galfinakis and Liotta – two guys who look like they really enjoyed playing that sleazy role. Steve Buscemi is odd as Nick’s father but still has some funny lines and Fred Willard as the activist neighbor who mines his comedic talents well in everything he does and this is no exception. Meanwhile, Sheeni’s parents are played by Mary K. Place and M. Emmet Walsh for laughs at the expense of the uber-religious. But those are the older actors, and this is a movie about youth. As Nick’s classmate, Vijay, Adhir Kalyan gets good laughs especially with Sheeni’s “sexually advanced” roommate Taggarty (Rooney Mara). As Trent, the perfect blonde champion swimmer/amateur poet, Jonathan Wright plays the role well, not as the typical blonde villain (see our Trifecta on William Zabka) but as the goody-two-shoes that Sheeni’s parents love (and who we hate because of it). Finally, Portia Doubleday plays Sheeni as a tease at first, but warms to Nick sweetly and then elicits his bad behavior with a naughty tinge to her voice which would make most men consider burning down small communities.
As for Michael Cera, the kid is just funny. We liked seeing him find love in NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and you can’t help but like the obstacles he overcomes to find it here. And as for only being able to play the awkward nice guy, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing a whole movie of Cera playing Francois Dillinger. The lines he delivers as the evil persona get major laughs in this film, so maybe he isn’t just a one-trick pony.