Film Review: Youth in Revolt

Michael Cera adopts a mischievous alter ego in an attempt to reunite with his dream girl in a familiarly peculiar story.

Positioned between the fantasy-fueled world of their childhoods and their wide-eyed initiation into adult experiences, teenagers have a unique perch from which to narrate their world. Perhaps that’s why the stylized, comically exaggerated world of Nick Twisp in Youth in Revolt goes down so well.

Michael Cera stars as one of those anxious teens desperate to fall in love and do the deed. While his pursuit of love has an idealistic urgency, he also scorns the compromises his own divorced parents have made with their new partners. While on vacation at a lakeside trailer park with his mother’s newest suitor, a crude truck driver played by Zach Galifianakis, he meets the object of his desire, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). The eclectic, isolated teens bond immediately over their love of aging crooners and Paris.

Torn from the love of his life at vacation’s end, Nick devises a plan to get back with his girl, which requires him to be very, very bad. Hopelessly meek, he invents an alternate persona to help him carry out his mischief: François Dillinger, Cera with a moustache and channeling “French thief.” Appearing in the same frame as Nick, the double at first seems like it will be a tiresome tag-along, but because the tactic is reserved for select scenes, François adds a welcome comic punch whenever he pops up. Most effectively, Twisp and Dillinger are both on the scene as they try to bed Sheeni, leading to a layering of reaction shots as Nick begs for François to seduce Sheeni and then is rendered speechless by the words coming out of François’ mouth.

The under-18s in the movie speak with a level of articulation and odd candor that’s one step removed from savant. “Would you mind applying this to my exposed areas?” Sheeni inquires in a sunscreen-application scene, lending an improbable remove to the implicitly erotic question. This kind of dialogue can be heard in any number of films and television shows, and brings to mind Wes Anderson’s affected approach, as well as Adam Brody’s fast-paced, adult ramblings on teen soap “The O.C.” But while Youth in Revolt has a rather familiar brand of peculiarity, its execution helps it stand out. How else can a scene of Michael Cera disguised in a dress, one of the oldest tricks in the book, work so well? By paying attention not only to dialogue-driven humor but visual gags, costuming and suggestive props, director Miguel Arteta multiplies the sources of humor to great effect.

Ultimately, however, Youth in Revolt falls into the well-worn path of teen coming-of-age love/sex comedies. You could call it a more tightly wound, dialogue-driven version of last year’s Adventureland, or a more neurotic, intelligent, love-focused American Pie. The main premise of nerdy guys trying to win over girls is the same. Cera, though he shows some range with the François character, is playing an iteration of his characters in Juno, Superbad and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Youth in Revolt is a fine addition to the teen comedy genre, but even with the lively François, it falls short of igniting the zeitgeist.