Review: Youth in Revolt
By Matthew Huntley
January 15, 2010
Ever since Superbad (2007), Michael Cera has become a one-character actor in the movies. He consistently plays the insecure, owl-eyed, virginal outcast whose haircut makes him look like he's five-years-old. At this point, it's hard to imagine Cera playing anybody else. But this isn't meant as a condemnation of his skills, because you know what? Cera is good at it. And if the shoe fits...
The traits I just mentioned are why Cera is such a good choice to play Nick Twisp, the hero of Youth in Revolt, a wicked and surprising little comedy that makes no apology for its twisted audacity. Nick, who loathes his last name, is a lover of classic literature and an aspiring novelist. He's more cultured than other 16-year-olds and he'd rather listen to Frank Sinatra than any Top 40 band. His only friend is another geek named Lefty (Erik Knudsen), who may be more of a social castaway than Nick.
It should come as no surprise that Nick is also a virgin (the movie opens with the sounds of him pleasuring himself). At his age, he would love nothing more than to be deflowered and escape his Podunk suburb of Oakland, where he lives with his unstable mother (Jean Smart) and her latest loser boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis).
After Jerry swindles a group of Navy men out of $900, the family escapes to a remote trailer park upstate. It's here where Nick crosses paths with Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), the daughter of two religious fanatics who, like Nick, wants out of her current living situation. She adores the French and wants a man whom she can call "Francois." Nick falls in love with Sheeni at first sight, but to keep their summer fling going, he must find a way to escape his mother's clenches, so he enlists the devious help of his cooler, manlier alter ego, aptly named Francois Dillinger. Francois aids Nick in getting kicked out of Oakland so he can live with his father (Steven Buscemi) up north, and therefore closer to Sheeni.
However, Francois' plans spin out of control, resulting in a series of misadventures for Nick, including a confrontation with his mother's new cop boyfriend (Ray Liotta); sneaking onto a French school campus with his new pal Vijay (Adhir Kalyan); staging a car accident with his father's Beemer; and dressing up like a woman.
Youth in Revolt, based on the novel by C.D. Payne, strives to be a bizarre and over-the-top teen sex comedy, and it succeeds quite well. It's funny, unpredictable and often outrageous, and mostly in a refreshing way. It helps that Nick is painted as a down-to-earth, somewhat realistic teenager, who can often be selfish, blinded by hormones and focused on only one thing. In this case, Nick only wants Sheeni, nothing more. He doesn't care about moral consequences, his future, or the people he hurts.
The film has been directed by Miguel Arteta, who makes it unexpectedly visionary. The animated sequences give the film another dimension and the constant subversion of the genre, along with Gustin Nash's snappy dialogue, provide it extra urgency and tension.
As for Cera, I'm still not convinced he's a strong actor, but that's only because I haven't gotten a chance to see him act beyond his trademark. He manifests a personality instead of embodying a character. Still, that personality works for Youth in Revolt. It may be a common role for Cera, but at least it's in an uncommon movie.