Anyone that pays close attention to movies can sometimes get a sense of a film’s quality based solely on its release date and how the studio handles its promotion. Typically when a film gets bumped to the dreaded first two months of any year you are either looking at an Oscar contender from the previous year expanding to additional markets or a dog of a film the studio has decided to release against a bunch of other dogs. Such informal rules are what makes Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt an early year breath of fresh air. I had a lot of fun throughout this entire film and when faced with the January and February doldrums this one serves as a solid option that defies the early year rule set.
Based on the C.D. Payne novel of the same name, Youth in Revolt centers on the teen virgin Nick Twisp, played with the timid comedic talent we’ve come to expect from Michael Cera (Superbad). Nick isn’t exactly your stereotypical teen. He has a taste for the finer things, with film choices I can respect such as Federico Fellini’s La Strada and a love for Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, a film that actually inspires the creation of his “supplementary personality” — Francois. What Nick is unwilling to do, Francois will do and then some. Got a problem with your parents? Blow up their car. Want to date that girl? Then suck it up and do whatever it takes to impress her.
The girl in question is Sheeni Saunders played by the fresh-faced Portia Doubleday whom Nick meets while vacationing with his mother (Jean Smart) and her current lover (Zach Galifianakis). When Sheeni leads Nick to believe she wants a man in touch with his wild side Nick will do anything to live up to her wants and desires and Francois is going to help him do it.
Cera, like I said, is just as you would expect, but he branches out from underneath the shy characters he’s played in the past when he embodies Francois, the mustachioed, ascot wearing Jean-Paul Belmondo wannabe. Much of the comedy simply comes out of circumstance and a lot of it we can relate to as many of us would want to do anything to get the person we desired. However, we sometimes let our insecurities get the best of us instead of calling on our own Francois to conjure up the courage needed.
Casting an unknown as Sheeni was a nice decision as Portia Doubleday has a lot of what most any actress would bring to the spunky center of Nick’s affection, but the fact we aren’t used to seeing Doubleday adds a dose of originality to her performance. Jean Smart is great in a role we have seen her play many times, but once Galifianakis is kicked to the curb she invites Ray Liotta, playing a police officer with issues, into her bed and he doesn’t disappoint.
I wish I had seen Charlie Bartlett back in 2007 as that too was written by Gustin Nash, who adapted Payne’s work here for the screen, as that would have probably made for a nice comparison. The best way to look at Youth in Revolt is to say it’s a sweet coming-of-age romance that dabbles in occasional bits of adolescent vulgarity, such as Nick’s entirely healthy exploration of the Kamasutra that had me rolling.
Youth in Revolt isn’t a film that elevates itself too far outside of its genre trappings, but it has a unique voice and brings more to the table than so many other teen comedies which primarily focus on dick and poop jokes. There’s a reality to Youth in Revolt and you can connect with Nick’s wants and his need to break the role of playing the innocent and go after what he desires. While the film is comedic and entertaining, it can also be a bit liberating. I have never read Payne’s novel, but if it’s anything like the movie (which I understand only represents about one-third of the novel) it’s a book I had better give a chance.