At 16, Nick Twisp is wry about his teen funk: he lives in Oakland with his sex-addled mother; his father's child support is her meal ticket. While camping in Ukiah, Nick meets Sheeni: for him, it's love at first sight. Nick has to figure out how to get his father a job in Ukiah, then how to get sent to live with his father, then how to get close to Sheeni, whose religious parents may want her sent away from temptation to a boarding school. There's also Sheeni's all-American boyfriend to contend with. Overwhelmed by the challenges, Nick's about to give up when he conjures an alter ego who whispers revolt into his ear. Nick is not altogether hapless, but can this end well? Written by
When you hear that Michael Cera will be playing yet another nerdy virginal dweeb, your first reaction is likely to include a couple of eyerolls and other dismissive motions. Here he plays an effete high schooler named Nick Twisp who thinks he's found the girl of his dreams during a lakefront vacation. Only to get the girl he needs to man up and become more dangerous, so he invents a subpersona named Francois, a dashing lad full of derring-do. This black comedy has plenty of laughs amid a wacky, absurdist atmosphere.
Nick Twisp. Great name for a fictional character; terrible name for a real person, I would think. Nick is into Frank Sinatra, his computer, and classic prose; he lives with his trailer-trash mom (Jean Smart) and her ne'er-do-well current boyfriend (played with laid-back zeal by Zach Galifianakis). Nick is as stammery as any other Michael Cera character, and his approach to the fairer sex is, unsurprisingly, ineffective.
Things look up when he meets neighbor Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday, who is both enigmatic and ebullient as Sheeni), who's gorgeous and fun to be with. It's not long before Nick decides Sheeni's the one for him. But it's quickly revealed that Sheeni already has a boyfriend, a real manly man named Trent. How can anyone played by Michael Cera compete with a guy named Trent? Easy by inventing an alter ego that gives voice to his rampaging id, a rogueish cad named Francois (because Sheeni loves French things). Francois allows Nick to do and say things that he'd never otherwise say.
And that's when things really take off. The pleasure of this movie is twofold. First, Cera's delivery and the script by Gustin Nash go together like Forrest Gump and Jenny. The jokes are often laugh-out-loud quality, and it's at least partly due to Cera's sometimes-mumbled, frightened-rabbit replies. His funny lines are played straight, and somehow it works. Second, the absurd escalating situations in which Nick finds himself as a result of his own actions, it should be noted are funny the same way Mr. Creosote's predicament was funny in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. The stuff Nick does at the behest of Francois to win Sheemi's heart are hilarious yet unlikely and yet they ring true nonetheless.
It also helps that Cera is supported by some damn funny actors: Galifianakis is a hoot in a somewhat dark role; Steve Buscemi plays Nick's dad with vulgar intensity (as if he were a domesticated version of Mr. Pink); Justin Long, of all people, is Sheeni's stoner older brother; M. Emmett Walsh (who's perhaps a tad too old to be the father of a teen) is Sheeni's dad; Mary Kay Place is the mom; Smart as Nick's mom; and Adhir Kalyan as a fellow student who helps Nick in his quest for Sheeni. Oh, and Fred Willard as a neighbor who likes to save illegal immigrants from the INS.
I know the word "quirky" is overused for oddball comedies today, particularly those starring Michael Cera (who, if he plays another Nick, may as well dot his face with bloodied pieces of tissue paper), but this one outquirks most of them. Even with all the madness zooming around this film, at the heart of things is the love between a girl and a boy and the lengths either will go to protect that bond. This movie should appeal to those who like offbeat romances.
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