'Youth' Fake: Michael Cera, Down With His Bad Self

W Michael Cera

Twin Turbo: Smitten with a passion for an uninhibited neighbor, the teenaged Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) creates a bad-boy alter ego — cynical, world-weary ladies man Francois Dillinger, at left. Chuy Chavez/Dimension Films hide caption

itoggle caption Chuy Chavez/Dimension Films

Youth In Revolt

  • Director: Miguel Arteta
  • Genre: Teen Comedy
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

Rated R: Sexual situations, slapstick violence, profanity

With: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Erik Knudsen

Dweeb prince Michael Cera plays against type in Youth in Revolt, a deadpan comedy based on a cult novel. But Cera also plays the type he usually plays against — the movie is a dual-role showcase with a divided soul, half Juno cute, half Year One dumb.

Cera's principal part is Nick Twisp, a Sinatra-loving adolescent living in a post-Rat Pack world. Stuck with his divorced mom (Jean Smart) and the latest of her loser boyfriends, Jerry (The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis), Nick may be terminally horny, but he's smarter and more self-aware than any of the available parents or parental surrogates.

After Jerry gets in trouble with some sailors, the household hurriedly relocates to a rural trailer park. There, the virginal Nick falls for the frankly sexual Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a Francophile with her own retro hero: '60s actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Both Sheeni's prepster boyfriend (Jonathan Bradford Wright) and her "religious fanatic" parents (Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh) want to separate Nick from his new crush, while our hero, deciding he needs to become an outlaw to win Sheeni, invents a Gallic alter ego — Francois Dillinger — in honor of Belmondo. Outfitted with a pencil-line mustache, tight white pants and a permanently affixed cigarette, Francois is hardly Belmondo. But he is an amusing contrast to Nick, who's Cera's standard gawky, high-pitched man-boy.

It's Francois, like a miniature devil in some vintage cartoon, who goads Nick into committing various crimes to impress the object of his desire. Ultimately, the faux-French figment of Nick's imagination inspires a raid on the boarding school where Sheeni has been sent for safekeeping.

Cera and Doubleday i

In pursuit of the comely Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), Nick makes more trouble than his better self is entirely prepared for. Weinstein hide caption

itoggle caption Weinstein
Cera and Doubleday

In pursuit of the comely Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), Nick makes more trouble than his better self is entirely prepared for.

Weinstein

There's more to Nick than Youth in Revolt can put on screen, of course. C.D. Payne's 1993 novel was subtitled The Journals of Nick Twisp, and director Miguel (The Good Girl) Arteta uses voiceover to include some of Nick's private reflections. Yet the book's sensibility doesn't entirely transfer to the movie, in part because scripter Gustin Nash had to condense the story so drastically. Nash, who wrote the initially clever but ultimately disappointing Charlie Bartlett, can't waste time on characterization. He's too busy cramming in slapstick crashes and explosions — not to mention the animated sequences.

And so rather than conveying the tedium of adolescence, Youth in Revolt seems overstuffed with incidents and characters. The latter include Nick's weird dad (Steve Buscemi), the family's immigrant-obsessed neighbor (Fred Willard), a stern cop (Ray Liotta) who becomes Mom's latest squeeze, and Nick's glum pal Lefty (Erik Knudsen), named for a physical abnormality that can't be mentioned in polite company.

With its vandalism, drug use and cross-dressing scenes, there's plenty here to offend Sheeni's parents. Most viewers, however, will find the movie bland and unthreatening. Even when Francois Dillinger is on screen, Youth in Revolt is about as subversive as a junior high school musical.

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