Sony // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power // July 5th, 2010
"Kiss me you weenie." -- Sheeni Saunders
Michael Cera (Juno) is back with another tale of awkward teens and coming of age quirkiness. But does Youth in Revolt bring anything new to the table?
Nick Twisp (Cera) is a strange boy, even for your average 16 year-old. He likes Frank Sinatra, Fellini films, and has the verbose vocab of a 20-something Ivy Leaguer. His Mom and Dad have long since called it quits, and he currently resides with Momma Twisp (Jean Smart, Garden State) and her current boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifanakis, The Hangover). When a mishap involving a Chevy Nova and three angry sailors sends Jerry fleeing for his life with the Twisps in tow, Nick encounters Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday, 18), a teenage hottie who also happens to share Nick's penchant for precocious talk and eccentric tastes.
When Nick goes back home, he needs to find a way to be reunited with his soulmate. He must get in touch with his inner bad boy. Enter Francois Dillinger (Michael Cera, again), Nick's bad-ass, chain-smoking, aviator-wearing, potty-mouthed alter ego.
By now we should all be accustomed to the work of Michael Cera. His shy awkwardness and heartfelt persona has been soliciting sympathy from the "freaks n geeks" set, since he came of age in Arrested Development. He's nailed the lovable loser stereotype, and knows how to play it for maximum effect. The problem is that Cera doesn't change the game much between films and, as he grows older, what was endearing becomes flat-out weird. In Youth in Revolt, our main man Nick Twisp isn't much of a stretch. Take every character Cera has played up 'til now, add a dose of Wes Anderson verbiage, and you get a general idea of what to expect.
There are plenty of chuckles to be had, and Michael Cera isn't above making himself look like a twit to score some of them. It's all driven by the Napoleon Dynamite technique of quirkiness, weirdness, and more quirkiness. The film uses absurdity as a weapon; if you respond well to this style of off-the-cuff humor, you'll probably draw a lot of laughs from Youth in Revolt.
The other side of the coin, however, is that this pretentious intellectual humor does little other than raise the blood pressure in many viewers. I will freely admit to being completely turned off by these oh-so-witty tweens and their oh-so-quirky habits. Nick is a 16 year old who loves Frank Sinatra and Fellini movie...sure. Sheeni is a French freak with an intense passion for Breathless who names her Dog Albert (with a silent "t")...right. It's not that I don't believe eccentric weirdo characters could exist; they've just become so tired and boring. These people aren't endearing or clever, they're pretentious and annoying.
And yet, thanks to plot conveniences that make the rest of the cast even MORE bizarre and annoying, we find ourselves gravitating to our leads, the misfit Twisp and his manipulative little bitch of a love interest, the equally precocious Sheeni. I couldn't manage to muster up a single ounce of caring or interest in the pair. These prissy little brats flaunt their intelligence as though it were a lead weight around their necks. They approach every aspect of life as though they were marching to death by firing squad. But hey, everyone else is completely insane and unlikeable, so I guess they work, sort of, right? One touch of irony I did notice; Trent (Jonathan Wright), the "other boyfriend," usually only spoken about until the final act, is more or less Nick's intellectual equal, he's like a prep-school trust-fund version of Nick's character. All of the things Nick despises in Trent are present in his own psychological make-up. It's probably intentional.
While the characters may be an assortment of freaks, the cast is universally pretty awesome. M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place are fantastic as Sheeni's Bible thumping, God loving parents, and Steve Buscemi (looking mighty old!) does a fine job as Nick's estranged Dad. Hollywood's favourite indie darling, Justin Long(Live Free or Die Hard) pops up just long enough to remind us he's still around, and still a douchebag. Lasty comes Erik Knudson (Bon Cop, Bad Cop) who plays Nick's friend 'Lefty'; so named because his, er, member, has...well...oh watch the movie; who steals what few scenes he's in, and actually brought more than a few laughs out of me, particularly in a deleted scene wherein Nick comes to reclaim the puppy 'lovechild' he had left in Lefty's care. Erik will be appearing again in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and I think he's a guy to watch.
The disc is sure to please, with a pretty straight-forward standard def transfer that captures the warm look of the film quite well. The sound is pretty much front loaded until one of the film's typically quirky alterna-pop tunes (by some band you've never heard of) starts playing.
There's a healthy slate of extras, including a commentary by director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) and Michael Cera that, if nothing else, leads me to believe that Cera is certainly a lot more self-assured than he appears to be in his film roles (that's called 'acting'!). Also enclosed is a smattering of deleted scenes, some of which are quite humorous. You also get some deleted animated sequences, which are pretty strange. It's a healthy, if unexceptional set of extras that's sure to please if you enjoyed the film.
There was one element of Youth in Revolt that both hit huge with me for fun factor, and greatly improved Michael Cera's standing in my book. Every scene in which Cera appears as Francois Dillinger is absolute GOLD! Dillinger, Nick Twisp's "evil" alter ego, is a collection of absolutely everything that Michael Cera characters have not been in past films. He walks with a swagger, constantly smokes, covers his eyes behind a pair of reflective aviator shades, cusses like a sailor, and has the most ridiculous moustache you've ever seen. He's part Jean-Paul Belmondo and part Frank Sinatra, as imitated, rather hilariously by Michael Cera. Michael's timing as Dillinger is perfect, his delivery is aggressive and yet made hilarious by his diminutive stature. Dillinger is easily the best part of the film. The real shame is that there isn't more of him.
Youth in Revolt succeeds in many respects, but falls short in others. It's entertaining enough, and laughably lewd, but it doesn't re-invent the wheel. With a little less smugness, a little more heart, and a lot more Francois Dillinger, this could have been a real treat.
I would slam down a guilty verdict, but some skinny guy in aviators with a
silly moustache burned all of the evidence.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes