Youth in Revolt

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Playing a dual part, Michael Sera renders such a dominant and charismatic performance in "Youth in Revolt" that he single-handedly elevates the coming of age comedy way above its genre and familiar themes. It's only October, but I hope Cera's turn will be remembered by the Academy's Actors Branch come Oscar time.
The movie world-premiered to positive response at the Toronto Film Festival (in Special Presentations). The Weinstein company will release the film in December for one week, to qualify for Oscar considerations, before opening wide in January 2010.
 
It takes talent to put a fresh, witty, often outrageous stamp on a genre that's been over-exploited in American cinema over the past half a century; the turning point is the 1955 James Dean vehicle, "Rebel Without Cause," which was a melodrama, not a comedy, but legitimized youth and their concerns as worthy cinematic issues. 
At once a tale of adolescent obsession with rebellion and a sweet romantic saga of first love, "Youth in Revolt" is based on the acclaimed novel by C.D. Payne, which was published in 1993, and adapted to the screen by an admittedly avid fan, Gustin Nash. Payne’s “Youth In Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp,” and its subsequent installments “Revolting Youth: The Further Journals of Nick Twisp,” and “Young and Revolting: The Continental Journals of Nick Twisp” have built a loyal fan base since the first novel’s debut. The books' readers have identified with the unique yet relatable coming of age of its protagonist, Nick Twisp.
 
Aside from its honorable literary source, the movie is a triumph on other levels. I'm delighted to report that with "Youth in Revolt," indie director Miguel Arteta, has made his most accomplished and accessible film. Arteta, you may recall, began his career with the 1997 "Star Maps," before making "Chuck and Buck" and "The Good Girl."  It's too early to declare Arteta as an auteur, though it's possible to detect recurring issues in his work, such as the preoccupation with youth and offbeat characters, and the whole notion of male arrested development.
Alongside Jesse Eisenberg, our other "expert" on playing innocent, misunderstood outsiders is Michael Cera.  In this picture, Cera plays Nick Twisp, an eccentric but essentially good-hearted and affable teen with a taste for high culture, citing Frank Sinatra and Italian maestro Fellini, though it's noteworthy that he singles out the latter's "La Strada," rather than the more popular works, "La Dolce Vita" or "81/2."  Later in the films, there are references to French films and songs, the classic "Tokyo Story" (in a good joke, misidentified as directed by Bertolucci rather than Ozu). A poster of Jean Paul Belmondo decorates the wall and occasionally pops up, sort of a corollary to the young Belmondo imitating our Humphrey Bogart (Bogey) in Godard's "Breathless."  Clearly, the protags are intelligent, alert, movie and pop culture-savvy adolescents.
I have not read the book, but I am told that for the movie, the creators have advanced the age of the protagonist from 14 to 16, which makes it easier to absorb as far as the candid dialogue, replete with explicit talk about dicks, vaginas, and so forth, is concerned, though all of its sounds true and none of it is rude or out of context.
The narrative is interspersed with funny, occasionally witty first-person narration, beginning with Nick's confession: "After living in Oakland for 16 years, I realized that women have zero interest in me." Which means, among other things, that this virginal kid needs to get laid, but he wants to do it the right, chivalrous way, and with the right girl. (Not to worry, it does happen).
Life at home, with his trashy divorced mother, Estelle (Jean Smart), is pretty depressing for Nick, particularly that her taste in men leaves much to be desired. First boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), is a crass fellow who's rude and insensitive to Nick ("let the kid do the dishes"), perhaps knowing that he's despised by him. Early on, Jerry gets into trouble with his neighbors, who react with vengeance when they park his damaged car in the Twists' living room to Estelle's utter horror. When Jerry drops dead out of heartache, Nick and we viewers sigh with relief. And it doesn't take long before the presumably grieving Estelle takes with a local cop, Lance (Ray Liotta).
Main plot depicts how Cera falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful, free-spirited Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) while on a family vacation.  It's not an easy road to get Sheeni's heart (or body), since, for one thing, she has a steady boyfriend, Trent, a pompous, smug blond. When Sheeni tells our anti-hero, “You must be bad, Nickie. Be very, very bad,” Nick goes out on a limb to prove that he (like any other hormonal youngster) could be really really bad.
Short as it is (90 minutes), the text piles up obstacles before the ultimate reunion, or rather going to juvenile detention center.  There are family objections, geographical distance, and jealous ex-lovers, all conspiring to keep these two love birds apart. 
Nonetheless, with Sheeni’s initial encouragement, Nick abandons his dull, predictable life and develops a rebellious alter ego: Francois.  Clad in white pants and blue shirt, and sporting dark glasses and a thin moustache, with a cigarette in his mouth, Francois stops at nothing to be with Sheeni, leading Nick Twisp on a path of destruction with unpredictable, uproarious consequences.
In the course of the yarn, Nick wrecks more than one car, causes a major fire at Berkeley, steals his father's car, manipulates Estelle's classmate to drug her with sleeping pills so she can flunk her studies and be expelled from school, masquerades as a girl named Carlotta, smokes dope with older pals, and is arrested by the police, all means serving his desperate efforts to win Sheeni's attention.
 
Throughout, the filmmakers are shrewd enough to place their iconic, increasingly irreverent character in one unusual milieu after another.  An intellectual and knowledgeable well beyond his years, Nick is like an alien on a distant planet, populated by his mother, his father, his mother's lovers and an eclectic assortment of people, which includes the Saunders, Sheeni's fanatically religious parents (Mary Kay Place and Emmet Walsh, both delectable).  Nick's quest to escape the suffocating environment, the stifling context that breeds bourgeois conformity, the worst enemy an teenager could have, will speak to every adolescent who's felt growing pains.
 
Michael Cera has been giving winning performances for several years now in films such as the Oscar-winning "Juno," the rude comedy "Superbad," and most recently in the less successful "Paper Heart." However, "Juno" and "Superbad" were not really his films, and I think that "Youth in Revolt" is the first picture that rests entirely on his shoulders (which, like his character, defy the norm of the pumped-up, well-built macho star). Blessed with big, soulful wyes, and a winning smile, Cera has an open face, which is not gorgeous (by movie standards), but enormously appealing and honestly inviting. You believe him, and in him, even when you know he is wrong, cheating, and lying.  
Cast
 
Nick Twisp – Michael Cera
Sheeni Saunders – Portia Doubleday
Estelle Twisp – Jean Smart
George Twisp – Steve Buscemi
Jerry – Zach Galifianakis
Lance Wescott – Ray Liotta
 
Credits
 
Produced by David Permut.
Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Nan Morales.
Co-producers, Steve Longi, Miranda Freiberg.
Directed by Miguel Arteta.
Screenplay, Gustin Nash, based on the novel "Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp" by C.D. Payne.
Camera, Chuy Chavez.
Music, John Swihart; music supervisor, Anne Litt.
Production designer, Tony Fanning.
Costume designer, Nancy Steiner.
Sound, Jonathan Gaynor; supervising sound editor, Trevor Jolly.
Animation director, Peter Sluszka.
Assistant director, George Bamber.
Associate producer, John A. Amicarella.
 
MPAA Rating: R.
 
Running time: 90 Minutes