Directed with gusto by controversial indie filmmaker Miguel Arteta (Star Maps, Chuck & Buck), starring overexposed but always amusing Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Year One) and based on the picaresque cult novel by C.D. Payne, Youth in Revolt has the sole misfortune of being a wry, rude, coming-of-age movie in an era already well-saturated with wry, rude, coming-of-age movies. Those who caught Cera in 2007’s Juno can be forgiven for getting a certain been-there-done-that vibe off Youth in Revolt’s trailers. It’s not that Youth in Revolt does anything wildly distinctive, but it’s an intelligent laugh-getter that doesn’t spoil its source material by going Hollywood.
The script (by Gustin Nash, who contributed the 2008 coming-of-age comedy Charlie Bartlett) ably maintains Payne’s dark, subversive sense of humor seasoned with just a hint of raunch. With its manic energy and multiple, multimedia interludes (both stop-motion and traditional 2-D animation), you could accuse Arteta of trying too hard to replicate the episodic craziness of Payne’s novel (subtitled The Journals of Nick Twisp). Still, you’ve got to admire the film’s unfettered gumption.
Cera plays our anti-hero, the unfortunately named Nick Twisp. The prototypical “high school loser never made it with the ladies,” Nick is stuck living virginal and horny with his oversexed mother (Jean Smart from “Designing Women”) and her slovenly boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis in a small cameo) in a non-picturesque Oakland suburb. While on a family road trip that neatly combines summer vacation with “fleeing from a trio of angry sailors who’ve been conned out of $700,” Nick meets The Girl of His Dreams. Blonde-haired gal-next-door Sheeni Saunders (newcomer Portia Doubleday) is everything an overly intelligent high school nerd could want: She’s smart, funny, sarcastic and incredibly cute.
Unfortunately, the fleeting nature of Nick’s visit and his enduring milquetoast demeanor conspire to quash this budding teenage affair. If only Nick were the master of his own fate. If only he had the stones to go out there and seize what he wants in life. To these ends, Nick invents a “bad boy” alter ego by the name of Francois Dillinger. Whereas Nick is quiet and respectful, invisible advisor Francois is cocky and obnoxious. The hope is that with Francois’ help, Nick will get kicked out of his mom’s house and have the freedom to live with his dad—who’s in much closer proximity to the much-dreamed-of Sheeni. Before long, however, Nick’s two personalities are battling it out with one another, leading to all sorts unfortunate incidents (and a couple of positive ones).
As a phony bad boy, smoking cigarettes, wearing tight white pants and spouting porn poetry, he’s a riot.
Cera is mostly playing to type here, but he has a lot of fun with the film’s teenage Fight Club-style premise. Nick’s mustachioed alter ego is hilarious in both his confidence and his inappropriately bad advice. No, Cera will probably never convince as a serious tough-guy villain. But as a phony bad boy, smoking cigarettes, wearing tight white pants and spouting porn poetry (“I’m going to wrap your legs around my head and wear you like the crown that you are”), he’s a riot.
Of course with Juno (and a whole host of films before and since) well-entrenched in the pop cultural memory banks, stories of quirky teenage losers who speak with far too much verbal articulation for their age bracket have become something of a genre unto themselves. (See also: Adventureland, Rushmore, Election, Heathers, Better Off Dead, Sixteen Candles, et al.) Youth in Revolt sketches its characters with broad pencil strokes and borrows elements from enough of its predecessors that it isn’t likely to be hailed as any sort of savior of the genre. If you like this sort of thing, though, Youth in Revolt has a lot going for it—from its highbrow/lowbrow humor to its clever dialogue to its snarky antiestablishment tone.