Twenty-five years ago, Michael Cera wouldn’t even have been cast as the goofy sidekick in a John Hughes film. Today, he’s shaping up to be an honest-to-god movie star.
“Youth in Revolt,” his latest vehicle, an adaptation of C.D. Payne’s cult-classic novel, expands on his star persona while reinforcing the self-satisfied pretense of his hipster leanings to create a surprisingly satisfying concoction.
Cera plays Nick Twisp, a hapless, pretentious and hopelessly virginal teenage boy who, like most hapless, pretentious and hopelessly virginal teenage boys, makes it his mission in life to get laid — property damage and the threat of prison time be damned. The object of Twisp’s affections is a quirky young girl who lives in what is likely the biggest trailer in the world with her parents whom she deems “religious fanatics,” though we are given no real reason to believe this is true. The two bond over French New Wave films, Serge Gainsbourg vinyls and a misunderstanding over who directed “Tokyo Story.”
But there is a problem. The girl already has a boyfriend. He’s 6’2″ and hunky, an athlete with an avid interest in postmodern poetry. In order to get the girl, Twisp invents an alter ego, Francois Dillinger, based loosely on the protagonist from Godard’s “Breathless,” and proceeds to wreck havoc. Arson, public embarrassment and a psilocybin mushroom-fueled Thanksgiving dinner ensues.
Screenwriter Gustin Nash, who previously penned 2008’s woefully under-seen “Charlie Bartlett,” imbues the script with layers of subtle jokes and allusions. The film may be troublesome for many as it is designed to induce smirks, chuckles and introspection rather than gut-busting laughs, but the quiet restraint of its understated punch lines plays very well with Cera’s incessant stammer. Think of it as a low-fi “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
As opposed to Cera’s last few features, “Youth in Revolt” is beautifully filmed with deep space, inventive animated sequences and the feeling of an actual movie instead of the Apatow-inspired style of blasé-looking skits loosely strung together. Cera’s dual roles are integrated seamlessly, and he demonstrates a goofy chemistry with himself.
The film is not perfect, as it suffers from a lackadaisical pace that jumps back and forth between Oakland and Santa Cruz perhaps one too many times, and a general sense of smugness — you are expected to just get the French New Wave connections — creeps into some moments. Still, considering the January release date, it is really much better than it should be.