Friday, March 26, 2010

Youth In Revolt

The problem with Michael Cera's latest vehicle Youth in Revolt is that it's a 90-minute adaptation of a 500-page source novel and even to someone like me who hasn't read the book it really, really shows. Potentially interesting characters flit in and out of the narrative with a few minutes of screentime apiece, subplots are glossed over so quickly you wonder why they even bothered introducing them, and the central romance has no time to breathe, let alone genuinely invest you. After the film my foremost thought was that I wish the concept of the miniseries was more prevalent in America, because told over four or five hour-long episodes I think Youth in Revolt could have been a much stronger work.

Although the trailer attempts to position the movie's tone as something more like Superbad than the low-key, dry quirkfest it actually is, it faithfully represents the plot: Michael Cera plays Nick Twisp, an aspiring novelist, horny virgin, and pushover omega male who's not only the biggest pussy Cera's ever played but almost a parody of his typical screen persona. In order to hold onto the love of his short life, the adorable Sheeni Saunders, he willingly plunges headlong into schizophrenia by creating an alter ego named Francois Dillinger, an ultra-suave hedonistic Frenchman who helps him with his girl problems but, like Fight Club's Tyler Durden, creates far worse problems with the law.

The film has an episodic feel, almost perfectly divided into frantically-paced fifteen-to-twenty minute segments that lead into one another but otherwise stand alone, each taking place in different locations with different narrative thrusts and even different sets of supporting characters. The first segment takes place in the trailer park where Nick meets Sheeni, the next back at Nick's house where he creates Francois to get himself in trouble and sent back to Sheeni, one at Nick's new school, one on an impromptu road trip to sneak into Sheeni's new private school to see her, one involving his final run from the law, and so on. Episodes. Again, I can't emphasize how much this average movie feels like a missed opportunity to make a great miniseries.

While Nick Twisp is a lukewarm retread of Cera's previous characters, Francois Dillinger is hilarious, almost to the movie's detriment as it only truly comes alive when he's onscreen and you spend the long stretches without him (nearly twenty minutes at some points) waiting for his return. As I said in my Year One review I continue to really like Michael Cera despite the predictable internet backlash against him, but with the increasing caricature of himself he's become since Arrested Development and Superbad occasionally making that fandom tough to defend it was nice to see him expand a little bit with the glorious dick that is Francois. I'd just like to see him expand in a better movie next time. Youth In Revolt isn't bad but fails to be memorable, and I'd skip it unless you're as big a Cera fan as I am.

2 Stars out of 5

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