Published Jan 07, 2010Michael Cera has become so overexposed that it's easy to forget how perfectly he can evoke adolescent awkwardness. There's a moment early in Youth in Revolt where he is out for a walk with a beautiful young girl and, wearing a nerdy beige polo T-shirt tucked into his slightly-too-short black pants, attempts to casually cross his arms. It doesn't go well; his right hand lingers tentatively outside his arm, as if he is not entirely confident that the whole arm-crossing thing is the approach he should be going for. In the presence of a pretty girl, this poor boy has forgotten basic body language.
In Youth in Revolt, Cera plays Nick Twisp, the hero of C.D. Payne's much-loved teen novel, but here nearly identical to Cera's characters in Superbad and Arrested Development. Sixteen years old, an aspiring novelist, a fan of Fellini and Frank Sinatra, and, of course, a desperate virgin, Nick falls for Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), the above-mentioned beautiful girl, during summer holiday. Their resulting fling, particularly Nick's "first undisputable make-out session," has convinced Nick that he's found his one and only love. Now separated in different towns and by Sheeni's ultra-religious parents, Nick's best chance at remaining in Sheeni's affections is to take on the "bad boy" persona Sheeni lusts after.
Cera takes on the dual role as Nick's imaginary persona "Francois Dillinger," or, Cera/Nick with white dress pants, ludicrous '70s shoes, a Cesar Romero moustache and an ever-present cigarette, prone to making aggressively sexual advances around women and committing sizeable acts of arson. He also influences Nick to go to extreme lengths to reunite with his crush and lose his virginity, up to and including recruiting someone to put sleeping pills in her coffee so that she may be expelled from her boarding school.
Youth in Revolt is one of those rare teen movies that actually knows what it's like to be a teenager. Everything has the ring of truth, from Nick's repulsed fascination with a sex manual to Francois' clothing, which, with its Tony-Manero-shopping-at-Goodwill aesthetic, is exactly the type of ensemble that someone like Nick would believe is smooth.
Youth in Revolt regards Nick/Francois with sympathy but strict objectivity until its final act, when it stumbles badly with its too-tidy resolution. The double-persona keeps Nick fundamentally likeable by using Francois as a convenient scapegoat for some pretty unforgivable deeds, but a movie this observant about teenage males should be smart enough to know that Nick is motivated more out of selfishness, and horniness, than actual love.
Still, this is a witty and inventive film, and it takes Cera's well-established comic persona into such dark and fascinating territory that it might be the ultimate Michael Cera film. Cera has become a master of teenage insecurity, but after Youth in Revolt, I think he would be wise to go in a different direction. He has taken his persona as far as it can go. (Alliance)