Rated R for Sexual Content, Language, and Drug Use
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi
Writer: Gustin Nash (Based off the novel “Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp” by C.D. Payne)
Director: Miguel Arteta
Running Time: 90 minutes (85 if you ignore credits)
Michael Cera has gotten the rap for being a one trick pony; after hitting it big in the cult show Arrested Development, he has used that quirky awkward teenager persona to the nth degree in films like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Superbad. Either it’s typecasting, or that’s just how the Cera monster rolls. In the film Youth in Revolt, which finally got a theatrical run earlier this year after being shelved for a long time, Cera once again uses the awkward teenage gimmick; however, unlike those other films, it doesn’t come across as annoying. In fact, it’s kind of endearing and even though Youth in Revolt is a little bit wonky in spots, all around…I kind of love this movie.
I’ve had this DVD from Netflix for about two weeks now and even though I wanted to check it out, I couldn’t find the drive. I think it had something to do with its marketing, making it look like the usual Michael Cera movie except Rated R and with him in a girly little mustache (girl? moustache? I stand by it) smoking a cigarette. Well friends, throw out whatever you were told about the plot and whatever the marketing guys tried to shove down your throats; this is a comedy, but it’s not a gross out comedy or a zany free for all; it’s awkward and dialogue driven for the most part, and it completely works.
Cera stars as Nick Twisp, a 16 year old virgin who longs to find the girl of his dreams. After a chance encounter with the beautiful Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) at a trailer park, the two become infatuated with each other but Nick has to go back to Oakland. Fearing that he’ll never see her again, he goes to absurd lengths to be with her; absurd lengths brought to fruition by his alter ego Francois Dillinger (erm…Michael Cera), and aforementioned cigarette smoking thin mustachioed man. While Nick is nice and sweet and oh so darn awkward, Francois is vulgar and conniving and whenever Nick needs a way to see Sheeni (be it by arson or by drugging), his alter ego takes over to do the dirty deed. Along the way, he causes havoc for his lonely mother Estelle (Jean Smart) who hops from guy to guy (including Ray Liotta and Zach Giliafinakis) and his father George (Steve Buscemi), and crosses paths with a host of characters.
I’m going to pull a “film critic” and say that this is the best Michael Cera performance of his career. Sure, I love George Michael and everything, but his dual role of Nick Twisp/Francois Dillinger is absolutely excellent. He keeps that quirky charm he is known/hated for, but dials it down a bit, making it more bearable and he’s the most likeable I’ve ever seen him. The most fun though, is Francois. It’s like Cera finally got a role where he can finally NOT be the awkward guy, and he grabs it by the metaphorical balls and squeezes it as hard as he can. Dillinger is the complete 180 from Twisp; he has confidence, swagger, and the ability to say “suck it” to the rules. He speaks in a lower tone than Twisp (Cera’s reeeeal voice?) and even though he’s made up, you wish the movie was about just him and not the other half at points. The Francois Dillinger moments are the greatest.
The supporting cast is also excellent, if a bit underutilized. Regardless of what the ads tell you, Giliafinakis is only in for about a cup of coffee, and he’s not zany or whatever you expect after watching The Hangover. Still, he brings a certain something to his brief role. Fred Willard, contracted by Hollywood to be in everything, is great in his few scenes as well, playing the hippy wannabe revolutionary Mr. Ferguson. Along with Ira and Abby, this is some of Willard’s best stuff. Although Buscemi and Smart are not in it as much, they have enough time to flesh out their characters and give you a better understanding of why Twisp is looking to escape and why he falls in love so easily. M. Emmet Walsh (SKINJOB) and Mary Kay Place also have a few choice moments as Sheeni’s parents.
Since Youth in Revolt has a short running time though and so many different characters, it feels like you miss out on some potentially funny moments that are cut short due to having to make the plot go forward; namely Adhir Kalyan as Vijay Joshi, a British high school student who helps Nick find Sheeni when she’s sent away to an all French speaking prep school 200 miles away. He’s only in it for maybe ten minutes at the most, but Kalyan is absolutely hilarious and their misadventure is the best two scenes in the whole movie so I was left wanting more. Alas, after that occurrence he disappears forever, never to be seen again except for a brief animated glimpse during the end credits.
The animation is another bright spot of Youth in Revolt and going into the movie, I didn’t expect to say those words. Through out the movie, there are different animated moments, from a stop motion car ride to the trailer park in the opening credits, to animated people floating around Nick’s head having sex while he’s hopped up on shrooms (yup). Although it could have been good without these sequences, it gives Youth in Revolt a uniqueness that you wouldn’t expect and a cool visual flare.
While it sounds like I’m about to give this movie four stars, I have to dock it for a couple of reasons. First as I said previously, some of the side characters are not given a lot of time to develop or to really impact the story in any way, letting them go to waste. Second, some of the dialogue is a little annoying, especially from Sheeni Saunders in the beginning. Doubleday’s character is supposed to be annoyingly pretentious at the outset, but I hate pretentiousness and got really annoyed with her interactions with Twisp in the first few minutes. I know these are small nitpicks, but for a dialogue-driven movie, that’s something you can’t ignore.
Youth in Revolt was a clever little film about teenage love and the lengths one will go to stay with the person they have fallen in love with. The cast does an excellent job, especially Cera who shows that he has more to offer in the entertainment world should someone give him a chance. Even though this movie could have been easily PG-13, the director stuck to his guns and the result is something that is not watered down. That, my friends, should always be praised.