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Youth in Revolt review

Rachel Winterbottom wonders when Michael Cera will be allowed to grow up

Written by . Published on February 10th 2010.


Youth in Revolt review

The film opens to the tell-tale sound of heavy breathing, only this is more like squeaky rasping, as if someone is trying to deflate an air bed by rubbing it all over with a square inch of sandpaper. It’s Nick Twisp, our narrator, and he’s alone. But he is being very clean about it.

Michael Cera seems forever on the cusp of puberty and, as always, excels at playing the part of socially awkward underdog. The day his voice breaks will be a sad day for the quirky indie-esque film industry.

Nick Twisp doesn’t show up on the social radar; he’s into classic prose, wants to be a novelist and enjoys Frank Sinatra. He believes this can only have perpetuated his state of virginity.

Socially sidelined, Nick (played by Michael Cera: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and a number of other similar films), spends most of his time writing his journal and discussing masturbation techniques with his only friend. His mother wants him so that she can claim child support, and his deadbeat father is only concerned with keeping his beautiful 25-year-old girlfriend. Good guys only get the girl in movies, Nick observes, in reality it’s always the prick.

It’s all change when Nick tags along with his mother and her pathological liar boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover) on a trip to a caravan park for two weeks. Here he encounters the alluring Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), his cause to rebel. She’s French obsessed, manipulative and, above all, beautiful. He spends a brief summer sifting through her French record collection, applying sun cream to her exposed areas, and falling irrevocably in love.

In order to attain his ‘comely angel’, Nick creates alter ego François Dillinger, named after Sheeni’s predicted future French fancy. Tight white trousers, roll ups and icy blue eyes, the camp, moustachioed Dillinger is everything Nick is not (apart from camp). He’s also a sociopath.

Now all that stands between virginity and the love of Nick’s life is Sheeni’s strictly Christian parents, a stint in a French boarding school, her demi-god boyfriend Trent, and the local authorities (who are none too pleased when Dillinger burns down half of the town).

Michael Cera seems forever on the cusp of puberty and, as always, excels at playing the part of socially awkward underdog. The day his voice breaks will be a sad day for the quirky indie-esque film industry. And a good day for Jesse Eisenberg fans.

The scenes where Nick is battling with his alter ego are brilliantly played. Particularly when he sits in desperate hope while the French Tyler Durden piles on the seduction (“I want to wrap you around my head and wear you like the crown that you are.”) Cera’s brand of soft-spoken, wide-eyed innocence is a ready-made contrast to Dillinger, a character that isn’t easy to get rid of once he’s been created.

Relatively unknown Portia Doubleday plays the love of Nick’s life, Sheeni Saunders. Sheeni is from the Juno school of infeasibly clever teens. Like Nick, she’s full of poetic hyperboles and the pair bounce so well off each other that their dialogue is like verbal foreplay for the intellectual. Doubleday is very good as the intangible Sheeni, even if the character is just Nick’s fantasy made real.

Director Miguel Arteta is better known for his TV work, which shows in Youth in Revolt’s episodic set up. Based on CD Payne’s novel of the same name, Arteta has stuck with the original diary format, which sometimes leads to characters being established and lost by the next entry.

Nick’s mother (played by the brilliant Jean Smart) and her string of boyfriends occasionally suffer from this, along with the delightful but short-lived appearance of Justin Long as Sheeni’s stoner brother. Still, the format works overall, particularly when the narrative is broken up by the occasional, vibrant animation sequence that plays like the doodles in the margins of Nick’s journal.

Although this is an undeniably witty and intelligent film, more youthful revolt would have been nice. It would have been something special to see Cera make a complete break from type and play the prick for once. Alter-ego Dillinger wasn’t quite shocking or rebellious enough to fully satisfy in this respect.

Sweet, funny and warming. There are some beautifully surprising moments of humour along with poetic dialogue and the sort of dry verbal exchanges you usually only think to make after the event. It could have been sharper and darker, but that wouldn’t have been Cera. In terms of his career, he’s still very much in his adolescence. Roll on post-puberty rebellion.

7/10

Youth in Revolt (15) is on general release now.

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