REVIEW: Youth in Revolt [2010]

“You sweet angel of the lavatory”

Wow, never underestimate the drawing power of Michael Cera. This kid is the most awkward looking and acting actor on the planet, destined to be relegated to one-trick pony status unless he stops letting himself be typecast, but my God does he have comedic appeal. The screening I attended for Youth in Revolt was sold out almost an hour in advance, something unheard of and definitely worthy of mention. You’d think people would be sick of him by now—I know I am—but the glimmer of hope that his character Nick’s alternate persona Francois could grow some hair on the chest of his boyish innocence was too strong to resist. And you won’t be disappointed in that department; Cera’s creepily wide eyes, prepubescent mustache, and uninhibited actions are a laugh riot. Unfortunately, too much of his nerdiness still comes through the façade of cool, not enough to make this otherwise pretentiously dialogued, long-winded tale without merit though—it’s deserving of a look for sure.

Miguel Arteta has had his hand in creating some very good subtle comedy, oftentimes pairing with Mike White’s talents as writer, actor, or both. Arteta was behind the camera on The Good Girl and a brilliant short film Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?, not to mention some episodes of the dramedy “Six Feet Under”. In other words, he knows how to get laughs while remaining poignant and reserved. So, seeing him involved with Revolt was a bit surprising to me, especially since they had billed the trailers to be an uproarious comedy with “that dude from The Hangover”, (hate to break it to you, but Zach Galifianakis is only onscreen for about ten minutes). However, the actual film is a nice hybrid of styles, definitely the most purposeful comedy he’s done, yet still retaining indie sensibilities and artistic flourishes. I forgive the overzealous use of slomotion—especially since it’s utilized so cautiously, not too slow that it’s added for dramatic effect or big laughs, but just slow enough to be noticeable and beg the question why—because I actually enjoyed the charmingly crude animation sequences, as well as the humorous quasi-splitscreen of pitting both Ceras in frame together, distinctly dissimilar to one another.

On to the film itself, the main plot concerns a soft-spoken, too nice 16-year old that has just met the girl of his dreams. Thanks to the deadbeat boyfriend of his mother, frightened by the three sailors he sold a lemon car too, the trio go to the woods to camp, causing fate to allow for the stars’ alignment and Nick meeting Portia Doubleday’s Sheeni Saunders. She is cut from the same cloth as he, in love with French New Wave while he Italian cinema and playing Serge Gainsbourg records to his Frank Sinatra—they are soulmates of the intellectual elite. Even their parents are similar in the fact their children are aliens to them; Nick’s are borderline trailer trash and Sheeni’s are religious kooks, neither quite the breeding ground for stimulating, unbiased discourse. But, while their delicate tastes are congruent, their lifestyles are not. Sheeni wants an adventurous future with a man full to brim in confidence and strength, two things any Cera character is lacking in immensely. Francois Dillinger is therefore introduced into the fold as the man Nick never had the guts to be. He’s an unruly juvenile delinquent and sexual deviant, a perfect combination for some good fun.

I really liked the supporting cast going along for the ride, despite their limited involvement. Jean Smart has been playing the unbalanced, aging beauty queen to perfection for years now; Steve Buscemi seems to be filling out the loudmouth, hard-nosed parental figure this year, which is weird considering his own gawky build; and Fred Willard is brilliant with the laughs, that voice of his with its ever-fluctuating volume made for comedy. Adhir Kalyan is starting to make a name for himself of late, here playing a Brit and kindred spirit of Nick’s, helping him get into more trouble; Erik Knudsen, as our lead’s best friend Lefty, is the perfect amount of awkward obsessive; and, frankly, it’s just always great seeing M. Emmet Walsh in front of the camera. As for our leading lady, I thought Doubleday did quite the job pulling off that wiser than her years’ attitude, the muse behind the destruction that’s definitely worth the effort. She is a little Lolita, casting her spell on Nick in such a way that it wouldn’t surprise you if she pulled the rug out and crushed him for his troubles. Quite the enigma, she seems to also be caught under his spell … boy would I like to know how he manages that one.

And that brings us to the indispensable work of one Michael Cera. It never ceases to amaze that he can play the same role over and over again, but do it so well that you sometimes forget you’ve seen it before. No one can deliver the lines he is given with better timing or biting sarcastic wit. It also doesn’t hurt that he is so natural in his actions and expressions. He can get away with stuff like oddly crossed forearms or goofy, free-form arm-flailing when at a run, even eliciting a laugh rather than a scowl at is unoriginality. There is a sense of empathy with him, memories of a time when you yourself were that strange and introverted. I absolutely loved his reaction to getting kissed post-dog smooch by Sheeni, but I enjoyed Francois’s oneliners and idiosyncrasies more. Just the way he smoked his cigarette, putting it to his mouth cupped in his palm and than out again, gripped between his ring and pinkie finger is mesmerizing. The addition of the pinkie ring and carefree attitude make this imagined miscreant my new hero. As for the pinkie itself, well I won’t mention where its other adventures lay—animated hilarity.

Youth in Revolt 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival


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