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
"Youth in Revolt" is original. It's not quite like any "teen movie" I've ever seen. Just as its source material offered a fresh twist to the dork-meets-girl scenario in ink, the film offers the twist on screen.
"Youth in Revolt" centers on unconventional teenage rebels; these aren't the hoodlums you'd expect to see smoking pot on street corners. In fact, these characters are essentially adults trapped in awkward teenage frames. They have sophisticated tastes and profound desires, but they also carry themselves clumsily and desperately try to shed their virginity. This mature immaturity makes both Nick (Cera) and Sheeni (Doubleday), along with a number of minor characters they meet throughout the film, compelling and unique human beings.
As Nick Twisp, Michael Cera carries the film. His awkwardly clever narration provides for fairly consistent laughter, and his quest for Sheeni's heart puts him through a dramatic ringer. As good as Cera is as lovable loser Nick, nothing can prepare the audience for his work as Twisp's alter-ego: Francois Dillinger. Dillinger is the anti-Nick, which also makes him the anti-Michael Cera, but Cera pulls off his boldness and iron will hilariously. Cera's dual performance keeps the film fresh when it begins to get a little dull.
As Sheeni, the primary love interest, Portia Doubleday concocts an unconventional leading lady. She seems to embody every characteristic of the female teenager at the same time, and it's not hard to see why Nick would idolize her.
The film focuses on Cera and Doubleday for the most part, and their relationship is strange, and therefore refreshing. Clichés are avoided, unexpected roadblocks pop up, and teenage love rears its ugly, fascinating face. The romance seems real, as well as funny.
When 'Youth in Revolt" turns its focus away from the youths, it's hit-or-miss. Jean Smart is fine as Cera's aloof mother, but the character itself is one-dimensional and strangely conventional for such a nonconformist movie. Steve Buscemi is fine as the father, but he's not given much to do. The standouts among the supporting players include Fred Willard as an immigrant-phile, Justin Long as Sheeni's stoner brother, Mary Kay Place as Sheeni's Bible-wielding mother, and the two unknowns who portray Nick's friends, Lefty and BJ.
Aside from a couple of intentionally quirky animated sequences and one or two clichéd stock characters, "Youth in Revolt" plays by its own rules, and it wins marvelously.
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