Need to spice up your life a bit? Just create a supplementary persona to do it for you; it works for Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt. Join helplessly awkward Cera, suave and deviant Cera and a slew of other odd characters on a senseless, yet amusing ride to achieving sexual bliss. The movie doesn’t pack the same punch as the book, but still manages to create a wildly entertaining blend of teen love, awkwardness and vulgarity.
Nick Twisp (Cera) is a sexually frustrated teen from Oakland, California. His desperation to vanquish his virginity takes a back seat to other issues including his detestation for his mother’s live-in boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis) until he meets the girl of his dreams on a vacation to a trailer park in Ukiah. Of course, the trip eventually comes to an end and his budding romance with Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) must come to an end. Well, not if there’s anything Nick can do about it. Or should I say Francois Dillinger? Through his dashing and deviant alter ego, Nick does everything bad and unruly to be reunited with his love.
In just 90 minutes screenwriter Gustin Nash manages to squeeze in a significant amount of C.D. Payne’s 499-page book. Not in great detail of course, but Nash honors just about all of the key points any fan of the book would hope to see in the film version. At some point, the detail-heavy story sinks, yet, at other times, it keeps it firmly afloat. The highs and lows balance out making the overall experience mildly pleasant.
First, let’s get the bad out of the way. The plot is very thin. A number people, incidents and emotions are visited, but only vaguely. Even Nick’s relationship with Sheeni isn’t quite justified. His infatuation with her is blatant, but you’re never convinced that it’s true love and not merely a teen crush. Sheeni is in a similar situation. Her boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is MIA over the summer, so Nick fills the void. That part works but when the relationship transitions into something more serious you’re too busy wondering why Sheeni ditched her all-American man for meek and meager Nick.
Underdeveloped plot points plague the secondary characters as well. In the most critical condition is Sheeni’s brother, Paul (Justin Long). His sole purpose in the film is to initiate an especially humorous segment involving a mouthful of mushrooms. The scene certainly garners the biggest laugh, but doesn’t validate Paul’s inclusion in the film. Rather than throw in more characters, Nash should have paid more attention to the ones more necessary to include, like Lefty and Vijay (Erik Knudsen and Adhir Kalyan).
Even with the little attention they’re given, both of Nick’s buddies make an impact. The same goes for Nick’s father and his Oakland neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Steve Buscemi and Fred Willard). Cera is 110% the focus of the film, but even when secluded to milling around the background, both Buscemi and Willard get the job done. Sheeni’s parents contribute to some of the movie’s most memorable moments as well, particularly seeing M. Emmet Walsh with a face full of mashed potatoes. Sheeni, on the other hand, isn’t very memorable herself and it’s not Doubleday’s fault. In fact, she’s an absolutely natural on screen. She’s one of those actresses that could just stand there and smile and you’ll still find her character endearing.
Sheeni falls victim to the Michael Cera one-man show. Nick is meant to be the film’s main character, but that doesn’t mean every minute has to be about him. Scenes that should have been purporting other character’s feelings wind up being twisted and turned so Cera can squeeze in a few extra one-liners. Again, this is the fault of Nash. The role of Nick Twisp belonged to Michael Cera from the instant C.D. Payne penned the book. No, this isn’t Cera’s shinning moment that will show the world he’s capable of playing someone other than geeky and awkward, but that’s exactly what this role calls for. He does get the chance to stretch his legs a little when in Francois’ shoes, but it really only requires a deeper smug and a pair of aviators.
Youth in Revolt has a lot to pick on, but even with its faults, manages to come together for an immensely enjoyable experience. The dialogue is quick, monotone and, at times, will go over your head, but when a line hits, it hits hard. No life lessons to be learned here, but that’s no the point. C.D. Payne’s book is an utterly absurd love story and so is the movie. It’s colorful, lighthearted and pretty damn funny.