Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Youth in Revolt"

You know how some actors essentially play the same role over and over again, only with a different name? How they never display any real range? Michael Cera is one of these actors, but, as with Ricky Gervais, this may not be a bad thing. Cera has mastered playing the awkward teenager, and continues to pull it off pretty well even though he is now in his 20's (if he ever actually starts puberty his career could be in trouble).

Based on the book of the same name by C.D. Payne, “Youth in Revolt” follows the darkly comic misadventures of Nick Twisp (Cera), an average sex-obsessed teenaged virgin who thinks himself a bit of an intellectual, and therefore finds himself unable to connect with most of his peers. If you have ever read any of the Adrian Mole books, this character should feel quite familiar (this is not a bad thing).

Nick lives in Oakland with his mother, Estelle (Jean Smart: “Designing Women”), and her loser boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifianaskis: “The Hangover”), and is little more than a financial burden to his father, George (Steve Buscemi: “Fargo”). He has seemingly only one friend, a boy called Lefty (Erik Knudsen: “Jericho”), and is a complete failure with the ladies.

After selling a defective car to a group of sailors, Jerry decides to take Estelle and Nick on a “vacation” to lie low in Ukiah; it is here where Nick meets the love of his life, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a fellow “intellectual” with a thing for the French and the daughter of a conservative Christian lawyer.

Too bad for Nick that Sheeni already has a boyfriend in the perfect form of Trent Preston, a windsurfing-poet-Adonis of a lad. Not content to just let the future mother of his children slip out of his grasp when his stay in Ukiah is over, Nick invents a tougher persona for himself, Francois Dillinger (also Cera), with whose help he intends to lie, steal, manipulate, and vandalize his way back to Ukiah and into Sheeni's heart.

“Youth in Revolt” is one of those dark comedies where much of the humour comes from actions that will make you cringe while laughing out loud. If you are a fan of shows like “Arrested Development” and “30 Rock”, you will probably enjoy this film. Of course if you are not a fan of Michael Cera in particular, you may well want to give this a pass, as unlike “Arrested Development” or “Superbad” this movie centers on him quite firmly.

The above is not to say that the rest of the cast contributes nothing to the film; Smart, Buscemi, and Galifianakis all bring the funny when they are on screen. Aside from Nick's family, you should also look for appearances by Ray Liotta, M Emmet Walsh, Fred Willard, and Mary Kay Place in small but important roles to the story's progression. Unlike a lot of cameo appearances, these roles do use the actors the the definite benefit of the movie.

One of the most striking things about this movie is the dialog. Since the main characters all consider themselves to be somewhat better than their peers, they all find every excuse possible to use large words and be overly polite to each other. This speech is hopelessly clunky and ill-fitting to the scenes, but this only makes the awkward situations that they put themselves into just that much more funny.

There are a couple of sequences in the film where the characters are going on long drives, and rather than just skip the journey we are treated to some very interesting stop-motion animated sequences chronicling these journeys. There is also an animated sequence where images from a book about sexual positions come to life; to go into anymore detail about that would be to spoil one of the film's funnier sequences. These scenes seem a little odd in a movie like this, but rather than detracting from the overall story they add to the film's odd charm.

This is not a good film for the family, aside from the animated nudity there is also a good amount of swearing and drug use in the film, so leave the kiddies at home, or dump them in the “The Chipmunks” while you go and see something a bit more mature... well, mature oriented anyway. For myself, the message Francois adds to side of Jerry's trailer early in the movie, while incredibly profrane, made me laugh out loud every time I saw it.

If you like smart, awkward humour and Michael Cera, you should go out and see “Youth in Revolt” when it crashes into theaters on Friday, January 8th.

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