Youth in Revolt
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Miguel Arteta (“Chuck and Buck,” “The Good Girl”) directs. Michael Cera stars. It’s based on a notoriously long novel by the hipster icon C.D. Payne. It’s about an awkward teenager whom we are told is intelligent (he likes foreign films and cracks wise), but has little character otherwise, who does wacky, illegal, and characteristically awkward things to win a girl who is clearly out of his league, but is still attracted to him nonetheless. The film features strange and out-of-place animated sequences that only serve to distract from the story rather than enhance the tone. The ending is ambiguous and the main characters all seem ambivalent to their predicaments.
In short, “Youth in Revolt” is going to be just as twee and hipper-than-thou as you fear. Occasionally you’ll see an ad for a film like this, and you’ll get a similar sense of foreboding as I did. Wes Anderson (to site a filmmaker at random) puts out a film, and you feel that the affected behavior of the characters, and the filmmaker’s ironic distance from any sort of emotional honesty, will leave you feeling cold, annoyed, and manipulated to unclear ends. Occasionally, a film will break through (“(500) Days of Summer,” “Juno,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), but more often, the audience seem all too aware of a hipster wall that is built up between themselves and the film.
“Youth in Revolt” is not a breakthrough. It’s not insufferable; indeed there are many funny moments in it, and some good performances too, but overall it seems like an exercise in hipster style, and outré nuttiness, and doesn’t bother to depict anyone as relatable or even real.
Cera plays a character name Nick Twisp, who is still a virgin at 19, and lives in a trailer park with his tarty mother (Jean Smart), and her married nogoodnik boyfriend (Zach Galifanakis). Nick occasionally goes over to see his put-upon father (Steve Buscemi), but is mostly just ignored by the world at large. This allows for a detached narration that is just as funny as it is annoying. It’s been said that Cera has played parts exactly like this in other movies (“Juno,” “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” “Arrested Development,” “Paper Heart”), but, in his defense, “Youth in Revolt” was made years ago, and only released in 2010.
Anyway, Nick falls in love with a pretty neighbor of his named Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) who has ultra-Christian parents (played by M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place), but lives in as much vice as she can. Sheeni already has a boyfriend, but, in a cold sort of way, leads Nick on and says that he’s a good guy, and does all of those teasy things that Nick should be resenting her for, but actually cherishes. Evetually she announces that Nick is just not “bad” enough for her.
Nick’s only recourse to create an alternate identity for himself, so he can goad himself into doing criminal things to impress the girl of his dreams. The alternate identity is named Francois Dillinger, and he smokes, breaks stuff, spits indoors, takes mushrooms, and commits arson. This sounds like the setup to a raunch comedy like, say “Me, Myself & Irene,” but plays out a bit more calmly.
Cera was actually good in this movie, and a lot of the throwaway one-liners are genuinely funny. The cast is really impressive, and everyone gives it their all, even though the Sheeni character is difficult to pin down; her desires seem to fluctuate frome scene to scene. Does she want a bad boy, a weirdo, or a saint? The biggest problems all really rise from the film’s detached tone. Or perhaps the screenplay’s need to cram a 1000-page book into a 90-minute film. Whatever the reason, “Youth in Revolt” is a mildly diverting, periodically funny, and nearly insufferable throw-away.