Director Miguel Arteta handles the absurd story and events expertly.
There is something wonderful about the feeling of escapism that movies allow us to experience. When we sit down in a theater with a group of strangers and check out of our lives for two hours we forget about what is happening in our world and just focus on what is being projected onto the screen. Nowhere else in life do we get this opportunity.
In Youth in Revolt, we get to experience what few of us would ever have the courage to do as a teenager: ignore our parents, break the rules, and go after what we want. In this case, what Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) wants is Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the girl he is madly in love with. Nick is not your average teenager. He loves Fellini films and Frank Sinatra, and is intelligent and well-spoken. He is also a complete zero when it comes to girls and, in his sixteenth year of life, is struggling with his virginity which is becoming an ever more unbearable burden.
Sheeni represents a glimmer of hope in Nick’s seemingly pointless life. His mother, Estelle (Jean Smart), has an endless stream of men in her life, most recently Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), who is about as desirable as dining at a road kill café. Nick’s father, George (Steve Buscemi), is unemployed and dating a girl just a few years older than Nick (and getting a lot more action than Nick, too). In order to break free of this mundane and unsatisfying life, Nick creates an alter ego named Francois Dillinger to help him embark on his adventure to prove his love for Sheeni and to make her love him.
Nick/Francois are what every nerdy, teenage male wishes he could be. Cera gives an enjoyable, if somewhat forgettable, performance as both Nick and Francois. The movie’s laughs come not so much from Cera’s comedic talent as from the wonderful script by Gustin Nash, which is based on the series of novels by C.D. Payne. He almost seems afraid to really push the character into the absurd arena in which he rightfully belongs. Francois needs to be larger than life but is instead just Nick with a pencil-thin mustache and new wardrobe. Cera tries his best to live up to a role as fun and hilarious as Francois but fails to fill the shoes of what must be a beloved literary character.
Director Miguel Arteta handles the absurd story and events expertly. The movie could easily have been too heavy on the teenage angst or the slapstick comedy, but Arteta balances the two themes wonderfully. Arteta, who also directed a fantastic cast in The Good Girl, manages again to get wonderful performances from all of his actors, who completely commit to the fantastical world of the film. This is a world where anything can happen because we are seeing it through Nick’s eyes and can’t be sure anything we see or hear is really true.
Youth in Revolt is over-the-top, vulgar, ridiculous and a whole lot of fun. The movie never takes itself seriously so the audience is free to enjoy whatever ludicrous plot turn that is thrown at them. The theme of the movie and, more specifically, of Francois is seize the day and try your best to break the rules. | Matthew F. Newlin