Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: Youth in Revolt

So the trailers for Youth in Revolt really didn't look all that appealing; Michael Cera playing "Michael Cera" in yet another Superbad-esque edgy teen comedy.

As it turns out, Youth in Revolt is really nothing like that at all. In fact, given the amount of footage in the trailers that isn't in the film, it's no surprise; selling this film for what it is to its intended audience might not've worked. This is a very literary, deliberately-paced and surprisingly unique comedy from first-time director Miguel Arteta. It's tough to figure out what to compare it to, really.

The film follows Nick Twisp, a nerd in the classical sense - he watches obscure foreign films, reads a lot of books, listens to Frank Sinatra on vinyl and is an aspiring novelist (of course). Naturally he is also desperate to lose his virginity, and so meets a rebellious girl name Sheeni who is trapped in a trailer park with her extremely religious family. Nick's personality is just too shy and quiet to truly attract Sheeni's affections, and so he develops a secondary persona named Francois Dillinger, who wears a pencil-thin French moustache, smokes, and is basically a complete sociopath. As you may have guessed, hijinks ensue.

But while in the hands of another director - or perhaps with a less excessively mannered screenplay - this could've been yet another tiresome crude teenage sex comedy. Instead, Youth in Revolt feels a lot like reading an intelligent comic novel; most of that is due to the dialogue, which is written exactly as though you were reading a book rather than listening to people talk. Here's an example:

Sheeni: "I'd invite you to go hiking with me, but you have no hiking boots or supplies or a compass..."

Twisp: "Oh, that's okay; I do all of my hiking freeform. I'm like John Muir in that I enter the wilderness with only my journal and a childlike sense of wonder."

Normally dialogue that obviously "written" would be both obnoxious and far too preciously pretentious to be funny, but the magic here is all in the delivery - Michael Cera is note-perfect in this role, and the uniformly excellent supporting cast (Cera is backed up by folks like Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi and Fred Willard) is no slouch either. As a result, and perhaps most importantly, Youth in Revolt is hilarious.

In fact, even if you're sick of Michael Cera's shy-awkward-teenager routine (which still feels diluted enough here to not be quite as much of a distraction as it's been in the past), this film proves that he definitely has acting chops. The Francois Dillinger character is really, really funny; Cera delivers all his lines with a low-pitched sense of nihilistic purpose. It's a home run, and the movie's biggest failing is that there simply isn't enough Francois. I'd watch an entire movie with this character as the star. Here's hoping there are more filmmakers out there willing to give Cera some real character work. He is clearly capable of more than looking uncomfortable while wearing a hoodie.

So ignore the trailers and check this out. It is unlike any other mainstream comedy from the past few years. Attempts to compare it to anything else fall short; there are some obvious influences, notably Wes Anderson, Freaks & Geeks (which the director worked on) and perhaps Ghost World, but Youth in Revolt really is its own thing. It'll be very interesting to see what the director does next.

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