The International Writers Magazine: Film Review
Youth in Revolt
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Gustin Nash
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi
Having carved out a niche for himself with a popular and recognisable screen persona in recent years, Michael Cera proves he has the charisma and ability to front a movie in this comedy. The coming of age tale is one that has been done to death in recent years, but Youth in Revolt provides a fresh, fun, and most importantly funny 90 minutes.
The set-up is a familiar one – a 16 year old boy struggles his way through life, love and (attempted) sex, encountering several adult – shaped obstacles on his quest. Films of this type can edge towards a slightly irritating, self-consciously “quirky” style, with off-key characters and settings straining to seize an identity for themselves, before ultimately arriving at an over-familiar end product reminiscent of a mobile phone advert. The alternative route is to go down the puerile route, which can sometimes yield spectacular results - Cera’s earlier film Superbad proves that bodily functions and genital jokes will always have some place in the landscape of popular comedy. Youth in Revolt, though, avoids the self – congratulatory feel of pictures like Napoleon Dynamite, by introducing us to engaging, empathetic and believable main character Nick.
Cera plays Nick the way fans are used to seeing him, however his bumbling geekish manner and nice-guy-who-finished-last performance soon gives way to a far darker and deeper piece of characterization. Nick is at first a fairly typically pretentious, sensitive teenager, an aspiring novelist who happily describes the merits of Frank Sinatra and classic world cinema without really understanding the subjects. This is touched on by an early exchange where he attempts to impress by naming Yatsujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story as his favourite film – but names the wrong director. This sort of deliberate mistake (albeit corrected in the same scene) by the writers allow us to see the vulnerable side of his character.
A chance meeting with Portia Doubleday’s free-spirited Sheeny kick starts Nick’s teenage lust, leading eventually to the creation of alter –ego Francois Dillinger. Francois must have been a joy to write and play, dripping with Gallic charm, his lines delivered with a steely –eyed, piercing wit from Cera, and a world apart from his usual act. Swarthy and rebellious, he provides Cera with a chance to showcase a previously unexplored range, particularly when playing both personalities simultaneously.
Cera, though, should not take the spotlight too far away from writer Gustin Nash’s snappy script, or Miguel Arteta’s tasteful direction. There are a number of visual and verbal references to Jean – Luc Godard’s Breathless, which provide something extra for the real film buffs in the audience – and we certainly enjoy being rewarded for our film knowledge.
There a few interesting diversions from the narrative in the animated sequences, which provide some of the film's best genuine laughs – for example, Nick’s studious reading of a sex manual being hilariously brought to life through his experiments with magic mushrooms.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this film is the excellent cast, with Cera ably supported by such Indie stars as Steve Buscemi, Justin Long and Jean Smart. Ray Liotta’s sleazy police officer and Zack Galifianiki’s loutish stepfather are highlights, but the best turn comes from Fred Willard as Mr Ferguson, Nick’s ageing activist neighbour. I won’t spoil some of the best moments of the film, but as a rule while Willard was on screen, I was laughing.
The most important thing for any comedy film to get right are the laughs, and Youth in Revolt has some fine examples of both the comic set – piece and sharp one –liners. The scene in which Nick and Vijay (Played by the excellent Adhir Kalyan) have successfully infiltrated Sheeny’s dorm, and set about an awkward seduction of her and her roommate, provides belly laugh after belly laugh, building up to an explosively funny pay – off.
Francois, meanwhile, has some fizzing dialogue, the implied Gallic charm about him made even more hilarious by one –liners such as “I want to tickle your belly button….from the inside”
Unfortunately, Youth in Revolt is not quite perfect. The sheer amount of characters can sometimes make it hard to follow, and some of the standout performers (Kalyan, Erik Knudsen) are criminally underused, performing their essential plot task then disappearing from the film. Doubleday’s Sheeny does on occasion lapse into an overtly irritating presence, which does lead the audience to wonder just why Nick goes to the lengths he does to pursue her.
Overall though, it provides a fresh take on teen comedy, and comes highly recommended to anyone in search of a well-constructed story with real comedy padding out a character-driven script which will cause you to really root for Nick on his adventures. As easy as it is to look at the genre’s recent history through a cynical lens, it’s hard not to warm to the more honest, laugh-out-loud comedy stylings of Youth in Revolt.
© Sam Faulkner Feb 2010
sam.faulkner at aon.co.uk