Michael Cera lone light in otherwise tame teen rom-com
For a movie titled Youth in Revolt you'd expect something a little more revolutionary, but indie film's favorite awkward teen actor Michael Cera (actually now 21) brings humor to this dark romantic comedy. Adapted from C. D. Payne's 1993 three-part novel, Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp, and directed by Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck), the movie deals with the adolescent love troubles of Nick Twisp (Cera). Nick is a gawky, pale, clever, law-abiding kid who likes Sinatra and Fellini and whose primary relationship problem is not having one. Like any other testosterone-oozing teen, though, Nick wants to get laid—for the first time.
Unfortunately, the closest he gets to any action is the bed-shaking of his divorced mother (Jean Smart) and her obnoxious truck-driver boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). When one of Jerry's shady business deals goes bad and a group of sailors threatens revenge, he decides to take the family on vacation to a religious mobile home camp, where they share a one-bedroom trailer called "My Green Haven." With his mother and Jerry "playing Scrabble" in the other room, Nick's life loses some excitement points, until he meets the perfect girl. Sheeni Saunders (newcomer Portia Doubleday) knows movies, keeps a diary, has had sex before, and dreams of living in France when she grows up. She is the girl, Nick decides, that he will lose his virginity to.
Like all vacations, Nick's comes to an end and he is whisked away from Sheeni back to Oakland, Calif. In an effort to return to the trailer park, Nick calls upon Francois Dillinger, a slick, cigarette-smoking, thin-mustachioed, blue-eyed devil—aka, Nick's badass alter ego (Cera)—who leads him on a series of ludicrous (and criminal) adventures to be reunited with his true love.
Yes, there is a burning trailer and some magic mushrooms involved, but the plot lacks momentum and Nick's juvenile fugitive escapades really only get as exciting as some minor cross-dressing and sneaking around. Youth goes around in circles, with Nick reuniting with Sheeni only to be pulled away again by pesky factors such as her yuppie ex-boyfriend and the police. Arteta and screenwriter Gustin Nash use animated sequences to transition from one setting to another, but the only time they work is when Nick takes the aforementioned mushrooms; the ending of the movie, like the events leading up to it, is unspectacular.
The filmmakers use some old tricks for laughs, like making a car magically appear in the Nick's living room without damaging the house and putting everyone on hallucinogens (because drugs are funny), but the movie's highlight is definitely Cera, whose acting delivers most, if not all, of the humor. Cera effectively delivers his soft-spoken lines with the same unassuming, almost indifferent air as Arrested Development's George-Michael Bluth and Superbad's Evan. Cera's exchanges with himself, when simultaneously playing Nick and the maniacal Francois, are the ones to look out for—as are the scenes between Nick and George Twisp (Steve Buscemi) and Lance Wescott (Ray Liotta). Doubleday, who has peeked her face onto the big screen in a couple bit parts before, gives a believable, but not particularly memorable, performance as Sheeni.
Overall Youth in Revolt is heavier on the laughter than the cute part of romantic comedies, thankfully, and Cera fans will be pleased with this charming and funny coming-of-age story.