Saturday, January 9, 2010

Youth In Revolt

O Michael Cera. You play the same awkward, lovesick nerd in every movie and yet you still somehow manage to keep it fresh. Youth In Revolt (based on the novels of C. D. Payne) isn't a fantastic movie but it is quite fun and entertaining. Like previous Cera big screen forays, Miguel Arteta's Youth In Revolt wears its indie rock hipster cred firmly on the sleeve of its vintage t-shirt with ironic iron-on decal.

Nerdy teenager Nick Twisp longs to lose his virginity but all the signifiers of his hipper than hip tastes (Fellini films, Frank Sinatra records, vintage shirts and too short pants) keep tripping him up with the girls from his Oakland high school. When his mother's (Designing Women's Jean Smart) current live-in boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis) crosses a trio of sailors with a shady used car deal, the family packs it up to stay in a conservative Christian trailer park in Ukiah until things blow over. Here Nick meets the flirtatious, bright and pretty francophile Sheeni Saunders (played by newcomer Portia Doubleday) whose tastes and knowledge of film and music rival his own. Unsurprisingly, Nick falls madly in lust and love.

The hitch comes when Jerry, with Estelle Twisp, Nick, and a dilapidated trailer in tow, returns to Oakland. The two young lovers plot their reunion through a series of what-if's: Nick's unemployed, sex-addicted, status-loving father George (Steve Buscemi) gets a job in Ukiah and Nick somehow manages to convince his mom Estelle, who depends on the child support to eat, to let him live with George. "You have to be bad," Sheeni counsels Nick. And so is born Francois Dillinger.

Nick's supplemental personality Francois, a hybrid of Sheeni's avowed longing for a bad boy French lover and Nick's own distorted vision of what the cool guy should be, provides Cera a novel angle from which to showcase his stammer-y, rabbit-in-the-headlights chops. Francois (complete with bad boy moustache) encourages Nick to do all kinds of things, from blowing up downtown Berkeley to uttering such ridiculous lines as "I want to tickle your belly button... from the inside," in an escalating bid to finally bed Sheeni.

Youth in Revolt is helped out immensely by a strong, funny supporting cast. The aforementioned Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, and Zach Galifianakis are all amusingly repulsive as the flawed adults in Nick's life. Ray Liotta is menacing and grotesque as Officer Lance Wescott, Estelle's new live-in boyfriend after he consoles her upon delivering news of Jerry's death by heart attack and then never leaves. The one truly supportive adult presence in Nick's life is Mr. Ferguson played spot-on by veteran funny guy Fred Willard. His rescue of Nick and Vijay (Adhir Kalyan, last seen by yours truly playing assistant Timmy to David Spade on the unfunny CBS sit-com Rules of Engagement) after a 200 mile road trip to see Sheeni at boarding school, resulting in Vijay getting some from Sheeni's avowedly loose roommate and Nick stopped just short of finally getting the tip in with the aid of Francois' smooth talk, is a truly knee slapping, laugh out loud moment. Justin Long also induces a few laughs as Sheeni's older brother Paul, a cool guy drug user with oracular powers who helps Nick while stealing George's comely young girlfriend (Ari Graynor).

As I said before, Youth In Revolt traffics in all the same conceits we've grown accustom to in a Michael Cera film. The soundtrack is crowded with indie and hipster-approved tracks, the wardrobes were obtained by laboriously scouring through vintage re-sale shops, and the youth deliver lines full of adult spunk and wit. Unlike say Juno, which suffered from wise beyond her years cracks from Ellen Page seeming at times forced, Youth In Revolt is inspired by Nick's love of Italian masterpieces by Fellini et al and Sheeni's devotion to French cinema and Belmondo. The dialogue is steeped in important, deep, and passionate thoughts as imagined by hormonal, lower-middle class teens who turn their noses up at anything made after 1977.

Youth In Revolt is charming and quirky if familiar territory. But there's a reason you keep that old ugly sweater and ask mom to make her meatloaf every time you go home. Michael Cera has carved out a niche as a character actor playing the same nervous, mumbly, lovelorn underdog. I loved him on Arrested Development and you can be sure I'll see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Fans of the genre will surely be pleased. We're not seeing anything new from Michael Cera ('cept the 'stache) but, then again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.

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