Let’s face the facts: if you’ve already jumped off the Michael Cera bandwagon, this movie will probably not prompt you to jump back on. However, if you’re still straddling the fence, you might be pleased to see that his character in Youth in Revolt is a natural progression for Cera. It is not a full disengagement from the characteristics that made him so endearing to begin with, but it adds a welcome new layer.
Youth in Revolt is based on the first book in a series by C.D. Payne, published in 1993. Touted as a relatable new voice for teenagers, the book’s protagonist Nick Twisp became a popular “Holden Caulfield” type for their generation.
Nick is an old soul in a teenager’s body, preferring French cinema and the crooning of Frank Sinatra to typical high school shenanigans. Consequently, he has few friends, and in lieu of any actual relationships with girls, he studies a well-worn sex manual, bracing himself for the fateful day when sex might become a reality.
As is typical of most teenage comedies, the adults in Nick’s life are a bunch of buffoons. His trashy but well meaning mother (Jean Smart) has a loser boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), who lives with them. She spends her days in bathrobes and negligees, sporting a different fake hairpiece every day, while Jerry wears a “three-wolf moon t-shirt” without a trace of irony, making them a trailer park couple of dazzling mediocrity.
His dad (Steve Buscemi) has somehow snagged a gorgeous young girlfriend who parades around in as little clothing as possible. His dad’s neighbor Mr. Wilson (Fred Willard) is a bleeding heart liberal who takes up any cause célèbre thrown his way.
When Mom’s boyfriend pisses off the wrong people, Nick is forced to go on “vacation” to a trailer park in Ukiah. Nick is dumbfounded when he meets Sheeni, a fresh scrubbed beauty who lives in a neighboring “two story” trailer. Sheeni is a precocious teen who loves foreign cinema, is well versed in literature, and knows a thing or two about Sinatra.
Game over, Nick is a goner. From the moment he meets Sheeni, Nick is obsessed with her. When it is time for Nick to return home, Sheeni implores him to get kicked out of his Mom’s house so he can live with his father, who lives closer to Sheeni.
Nick is too timid to actually do anything bad, so he develops an alter-ego named Francois, who seems to be just the type of chap Sheeni would love. Francois is aloof, smooth and cunning, smartly dressed in white loafers and white pants. He can barely hide his disdain for the wimpy Nick, and cajoles him into committing a series of crimes and misdemeanors that are completely out of character.
Cera gets to play both of the characters, and this is a nice way for him to cut his teeth on a more serious, brooding role. Newcomer Portia Doubleday is refreshingly age appropriate, and does a fine job as Nick’s beguiling dream girl. Mary Kay Place shows up in the supporting cast as Sheeni’s ultra conservative, Christian mother and Fred Willard is particularly funny in his role. Other supporting players include Ray Liotta, and Justin Long.
There is enough jackassery packed into the 90 minute running time to appeal to horny teens looking for a comedy, but Youth in Revolt is a little smarter than the usual teen comedy romp. Michael Cera is really perfect as Nick, who almost destroys his life to get the girl who is his intellectual equal. Witty and irreverent, with a hint of raunch, Youth in Revolt is the thinking man’s American Pie.