A Droid Premiere – Youth in Revolt (2010)
I’ll state this first up. I’m a sucker for these types of films. Films about a young, awkward guy, who will go to any length to get the girl of his dreams. Admittedly, they’re not usually any good, but every so often one comes along that is well written, features good performances, is genuinely funny and a little bit unique. ‘Youth in Revolt’ is that type of film.
Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) is an intelligent, creative, nerdy, virginal, Frank Sinatra loving, french film enthusiast. Living with his mum Estelle (Jean Smart) and her slovenly boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), he’s alone in the world, with only his equally awkward and geeky best friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) for company. Why he’s called Lefty is pretty funny. When the car Jerry sells to some Navy men breaks down, and they demand their money back or else, they all head out of town to a “cabin” (actually a trailer) to lie low for a while. There, Nick meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), daughter of devout christian parents (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place). Sheeni shares his love of French film. More specifically, she loves anything French. Nick instantly falls in love. But after a few days, Jerry hurts his back, and they have to head home for his painkillers. Nick must devise a way to get back to Sheeni. The only way is to embrace the rebellious teenager inside him. To achieve this, he creates an alter ego, impressively named François Dillinger.
Some people don’t like Michael Cera. Sometimes I can understand why. He usually plays very similar characters to this one. Awkward. Shy. Nerdy. But he does it well. Sometimes he’s so laid back in his performances he comes across as half asleep, but behind the nerdy exterior his characters are, more often than not, intelligent. He has a very good sense of comic timing (just watch ‘Arrested Development’ to see it in action). But what he does here is prove that he can be more than just the “nerdy guy”. By playing dual roles, he creates two separate characters. There’s the usual Michael Cera type. But also, in François, who always with a rolly dangling from his mouth, he creates a cool, kind of creepy, almost dangerous character that shows us that he can be more than our expectations. With his wispy moustache, blue eyes and European threads, Francois looks ever so slightly different from Nick, but what Cera does to differentiate the character is to give piercing looks and lower is voice just slightly. In scenes where Nick and François are having a conversation, it’s very effective.
The cast is superb. Along with Cera, Smart, Walsh and Place, it features Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Justin Long and Fred Willard. Portia Doubleday, as the dream girl, is very good. Justin Long turns up late in the film to steal a few scenes as the drug-addled older brother of Sheeni, and Willard has a particularly funny scene where he… well, I won’t ruin the gag for you.
Adapted by Gustin (!?) Nash, based on the book by C.D. Payne (unread by me), and directed by Miguel Arteta, who made ‘Chuck and Buck’, which I haven’t seen, and ‘The Good Girl’ which I have seen but immediately forgot, ‘Youth’ is just this side of quirky. The opening credits are in stop motion animation, and there are a couple of other scenes, both ‘trips’ of different kinds, that also include animation. Arteta shows a terrific sense of comic timing, generating some genuine laugh out loud moments, and he keeps things moving at a brisk pace. It’s a slim story, more about character and situation, and the pace helps keep us involved. The scenes with Nick and François are seamlessly cut together, never showy and always believable. The score is good, helping to underline the comedy, and also touching on the films (characters) French inspirations.
‘Youth in Revolt’ was surprisingly funny and intelligent. Not quite what I was expecting, and that’s a good thing. It has some very good performances, and a good message about being yourself, and while it may not make anyone’s Top 10, it’s a cut above the usual ‘young adult’ type movie that Hollywood pumps out. That’s probably why it didn’t do that well at the box office. Recommended for a lazy Sunday afternoon.