As the title suggests, young Michael Cera (“Superbad”) is indeed in revolt. He’s in revolt against the social order preventing nice, polite, untoned boys from dating the smoking-hot girls of their dreams. He’s in revolt against the hypocritical authoritative figures who have the gall to dictate what’s right and wrong without adhering to the conduct themselves.
“Youth in Revolt”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
The Weinstein Company
But mostly, Michael Cera is rebelling against the naysayers who dismiss his “limited” acting ability and range. As many have noticed, Cera tends to play the sensitive, slightly awkward teen, with minor variations, in nearly all of his performances (see “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” “Juno” and TV’s “Arrested Development”).
In “Youth in Revolt,” Cera finally breaks free from his typecast. At the beginning of the movie, he is simply Nick Twisp, a hapless appreciator of vinyl records whose mom gets laid more than he does. But to win over Sheeni (newcomer Portia Doubleday), the girl he loves, Nick adopts an alternate persona named François Dillinger — an anarchic, chain-smoking, mustached Frenchman.
François is perhaps Michael Cera’s greatest character, precisely because he behaves contrary to all expectations of the actor. François is crass, destructive and sexually confident — a complete reversal of the Cera archetype. Under the instruction of the sociopathic François, Nick commits delinquent crimes and engages in nefarious activities to get close to — and win over — Sheeni.
Yet, no matter how unsettling they may be, his actions and possible schizophrenia are always played for laughs. Cera’s inherent innocence and “golden boy” status is embedded in the mind, so it’s easy to forgive his reprehensible deeds. After all, everything he does is to reach his true love.
Thankfully, “Youth in Revolt” is not merely a one-joke film of Nick’s maniacal alter ego. An outstanding cast supports the film, mixing comedic veterans together with talented young actors. In small-but-crucial roles, Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”) exploits his derelict visage as the uncouth boyfriend of Nick’s mom and Fred Willard (“A Mighty Wind”) manifests his distinctive lunacy as Nick’s insurrectionist neighbor. The film also showcases the skills of Adhir Kalyan (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), as Nick’s equally sex-obsessed friend, and Portia Doubleday, perfectly cast as the ineffably irresistible Sheeni.
There is a glaring, unforgivable flaw here, but it’s one that’s more attributable to the failure of the marketing department than anything else. Many of the most uproarious gags and shocking plot twists in “Youth in Revolt” are carelessly squandered in its trailer. True, as a commodity, the production company wants to create a market for their product, but this is an instance where advertising has compromised the entertainment value of a film.
Still, “Youth in Revolt” has enough substance and dark, unexpected humor to survive its marketing blunder. There are lots of subtle shout-outs to cinephiles as well, who will adore the film’s understated ties to French New Wave cinema. Nick Twisp is essentially a teen sex comedy version of Michel, the protagonist of Godard’s “Breathless.” Once Nick falls under the influence of François, he shows a clear disdain for the law (and police) as he recklessly continues his quest for Sheeni’s love, even with his face plastered all over the news.
Michael Cera’s legs may be everlastingly hairless, but he has successfully silenced all detractors who label him as a one-dimensional actor. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new phase in the actor’s career.