Youth in Revolt

Youth in Revolt

It must be very conflicting to be Michael Cera. On the one hand, the guy has a pretty interesting career of appearing in a disproportionate number of critically acclaimed films and debuting in one of the most revered TV comedies of all time. On the other hand, his boyish appearance and virtuosity at playing acutely mild-mannered underdogs have put him in a typecast purgatory that, at best, might send him on a Ron Howard style trajectory straight from in front of the camera as everyone's favorite perpetual kid to forever behind it as a half-wasted talent who never overcame the constraints of audience demand. At the tender age of 22, Cera has literally never played a character who is older than 16, despite the fact that he's a very good actor with crack comic timing and more range than anyone with studio funds seems willing to acknowledge. To that end, I think the 2009 super indie comedy Youth in Revolt is a minor victory for Michael Cera, if a middling effort for everyone else.

Miguel Artera of Chuck and Buck semi-fame adapted C.D. Payne's novel Youth in Revolt with the help of writer Gustin Nash (fresh off the not great but still underrated Charlie Bartlett) to reasonable success and as much fanfare as one can expect from an independent film that hits every note one would expect from that twee wing of the industry. It sports a fluffy, obscure soundtrack of quasi-campfire tunes and more street cred creating cameos than you can shake a stick at. Before the movie hits the halfway point, Zach Galafianakis, Ray Liotta and Steve Buscemi all make an appearance, though they're all used to mostly good effect. The dialogue is unrealistically florid and at times anachronistic, the entertainment value of it being in direct proportion to the skills of the actor currently speaking.

The real selling point of Youth in Revolt is Michael Cera's portrayal of Francois Dillinger, the imaginary alter ego of his hopelessly ineffectual teen Nick Twisp. Maybe it's the ironic shock value of listening to the still baby-faced George Michael Bluth spouting profanities and sucking on cigarettes beneath his jerky mustache, but Francois alone is worth the price of a ticket (or rental). In a larger sense, Francois is a refreshing curative for the onslaught of scrawny geeks who have been the heroes of indie flicks for a decade and running.

The supporting cast of Youth in Revolt fares surprisingly well. Adhir Kalyan, who plays Nick's new friend Vijay, is subtle and hilarious while Justin Long turns in another delightfully creepy performance that, along with his quick bits in Idiocracy and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, stands as proof of his abilities as a top-notch character actor. Portia Doubleday, who plays Nick's absurdly unrealistic love interest Sheeni, acquits herself well by lavishing in the purple prose and classicist aesthetic of her character. It's a bit surprising that the story never really cuts Sheeni down for being at best a temporary teen infatuation and at worst a manipulative product of unbridled self interest, but it should be apparent from the first of three (three!) unnecessary animated sequences that Youth in Revolt prefers to exist about 75% in pure fantasy.

Youth in Revolt is funny enough, creative enough and stylish enough to stand out among the overwhelming number of Juno knock-offs that have blossomed over the past few years, though it doesn't have enough fresh ideas to justify its run time. In a sense it's proof that twee indie movies have become a new genre of popcorn, a way to sell tickets to people who avoid explosion-fests and romantic comedies. Now, will someone please cast Michael Cera as an adult so the guy doesn't lose his mind before age 30?