Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie Log: Youth in Revolt

A little Michael Cera goes a long way -- his trademark diffident, distracted, high-voiced loser act having been losing interest practically since the moment he unrolled it -- so one might be worried about a movie that has Cera in what's essentially two parts. The good news is that he only plays "Michael Cera" for one of those parts, and the other's role is to shove that character as far away from Cera-ness as is possible in an hour and a half.

Youth In Revolt is funny, in a cartoony way, but never has any underlying seriousness to ground that comedy in anything. Cera's Nick Twisp is a sixteen-year-old boy living in Oakland, CA, whose divorced mother falls for a succession of lousy men and whose father is living with a very young woman whose gorgeousness is just another joke. Nick is our main character, center, and narrator; we never get out of his skull or away from his point of view. (So, if you can't stand Cera at all, stay far away from this movie.) And Nick, like all teenage boys, is obsessed with losing his virginity.

If Youth in Revolt had any balance, or viewpoint outside of Nick, it could have become the Apatow Era's answer to Little Darlings, but it doesn't. On the other hand, it's more sexless than you might expect, since Nick quickly latches onto one girl (Portia Doubleday as Sheeni Saunders) as his True Love and channels all of his adolescent energy into winning her and getting back to her. (They meet at a trailer-park somewhere off to the north of Oakland, where she lives and he vacations with his mother and her then-boyfriend.) For reasons that are sufficient to the plot of the movie, but don't actually make a whole lot of sense, Nick spends most of the running time of Youth in Revolt trying to be "bad," which will get him back to Sheeni but ever-more drive her very religious and controlling parents away from him.

So Nick manifests an alter ego -- the Nouvelle Vague-inspired French-accented "Francois Dillinger" -- who gives him advice on how to be bad at every turn, and rapidly finds himself both in more and more trouble and having more and more fun. If it wasn't so programmatic and constricted, Youth in Revolt could have been honestly, wickedly subversive, so it can be disappointing to see it settle into its solid groove, but there's a long list of good actors working in support of Cera's double act -- from Justin Lond and Zach Galifianakis to Fred Willard and M. Emmett Walsh -- who keep the movie lively.

Cera is fine at the center, and his sunglasses-wearing, smoking Francois could show a way for him to find a different kind of character to play -- he makes a good piece of bored Eurotrash. But Youth in Revolt is, in the end, a movie about revolt that doesn't actually know what it's revolting against; it's funny enough, and a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, but the fog of lost possibilities is so thick the actual movie can sometimes be difficult to see. 

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