There are some things about Youth in Revolt that makes it feel like a Cohen brothers’ movie. It’s not just that it has Steve Buscemi in it. The whole atmosphere is surreal, the characters are more accurately described as caricatures and the dark, damaged hearts of seemingly straight-laced Americans are always visible just beneath the surface. If you strip away the plinky plonky acoustic soundtrack and the completely unnecessary animated segments, Youth in Revolt feels fresh, and its makers are pleasantly willing to subvert the assumptions you might have about this coming of age tale. But since you can’t separate individual elements out from the film, the overall effect is of a wolf wearing a poorly knitted jumper to blend in with the herd.
As you might have guessed, it is the presence of Michael Cera which makes the film. Though there are cameos from the likes of Ray Liotta and Zach Galifianakis, these are fairly muted. Cera shines, and I for one do not really care that he is constantly landing fairly similar roles. His sense of comic timing, his delivery of occasionally prosaic lines and his physical presence onscreen all mark him out as unique and oddly alluring. People wonder why he always gets the girl when he is clearly playing such a geek. Go and watch Youth in Revolt and see if you can resist his charms.
Cera plays Nick Twisp, a nervous teen virgin searching for physical satisfaction, love and intellectual stimulation. When he takes a brief trip to a trailer park he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a temptress with intensely religious parents who leads him into a romance which both seem gagging to consummate. Like any number of teen films, the aim here is to get laid. But this is nothing like American Pie. Cera is returned to his home far from Sheeni, and he realises that the only way to be near to her again is to engineer a situation in which he gets kicked out by his mother and is made to move in with his father. This involves getting into some serious trouble with the law. To force out his dark side, Twisp creates an alter-ego named Francois Dillinger. Whenever a push towards Sheeni is needed, Dillinger is always on hand to intervene. The schizophrenic nature of the two roles is handled well, and is never particularly gimmicky or distracting.
For the first 45 minutes Youth in Revolt clips along nicely, and is undoubtedly funny in a slightly more reserved way than other teen comedies. However, if you don’t like Michael Cera, you will probably want to avoid this one. By the third act things are beginning to feel stilted and bland, with rebellion and meaning obscured by a rush to burn through various disjointed situations towards the films literal and metaphorical climax. The ride is enjoyable, but the execution is inconsistent.
The review is over now, but as a kind of afterthought, or perhaps a little homework assignment, I recommend you go away and watch both Youth in Revolt and the Seth Rogan vehicle Observe and Report. Then let me know if you think the two have anything in common.