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Director's teen love story takes Michael Cera to new depths

One doesn't like to start a shiny new year with the word "curse," but arts journalism is all about balancing the insightful with the unkind.

Since the world fell in love with Michael Cera and Ellen Page in Juno , neither actor has had a hit film, even a modest hit, and one is beginning to wonder if there is a Juno curse. Maybe everyone's just waiting for Juno 2.

Director Miguel Arteta's new film, Youth in Revolt , seeks to break the post- Juno juju and reunite audiences with the lanky wonder boy's puppy-eyed charms - mostly by letting Cera (and the rest of the cast, including the always great Fred Willard) run wild.

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Based on the best-selling novels by C.D. Payne, Youth in Revolt follows the misadventures of young Nick Twisp (Cera), a boy who is so desperate for love that he creates a second, and far more outrageous, personality in order to overcome his natural shyness and debilitating habit of obeying all the rules. Under Arteta's direction, Youth in Revolt becomes a study of self vs. self-presentation, filtered through Cera's media-generated aw-shucks public persona.

Arteta, whose previous work includes episodes of Ugly Betty , Freaks and Geeks , and the cult teen-stalker film Chuck & Buck , is more than familiar with the lives of awkward youth, and, more important, the extremes to which unhappy teens will go to fulfill their dreams.

By the time small towns start getting torched in Youth in Revolt , you know you're not watching High School Musical , or even, saints preserve us, that non-movie Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist .

When I saw Youth in Revol t last fall, John Hughes had just died. Did you have any of the great teen movie classics in mind while making the film?

No, but I'm a huge fan of them - not as a teenager, because I come from Puerto Rico, but about 10 years ago I got into John Hughes and just watched everything. I like that style an awful lot. But the source material for Youth in Revolt is the books, and they're really funny, inspiring books. They are picaresque novels in the great tradition of picaresque novels.

There's a perhaps unintended topicality in this film, in that everyone is either broke or about to go broke .

The book was written in 1992, so I hadn't thought about that, but it is interesting. Part of Nick Twisp's situation is that his parents are having to be so careful with money. He has to scrounge money to take a bus, he's always struggling. But I wonder how that will work with audiences now, because I notice that people are going to movies where they are not reminded of the economy, people want to forget their troubles.

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But a lot of the great screwball comedies from the Depression were about money - fortunes lost and made .

Yeah, but there were also a lot of them about the lives of the rich, comedies of errors. But I do know that the two businesses that are booming today are the movie business and the alcohol business! The teens in this film are overarticulate, compared to the monosyllabic teens one meets in real life. If this is a filmic device, how do you make it work, make it believable ?

Well, definitely the casting, you know? Michael Cera grew up being tutored on Arrested Development , and he's a voraciously curious person and super well-read. So, it comes naturally to him. And for his romantic lead, we wanted to find somebody who also had that ability, but felt real. So, it was a balance.

Obviously, there were a lot of discussions when we were making the film, because we wanted to make sure that it [the dialogue]was organic to the story but not something that felt like a pretension.

We also realized that it [the way the characters speak]is an escape mechanism for the kids. The whole movie is about escaping really terrible families, and so these two teenagers have found the same coping mechanism - adopting vocabulary from novels [and movies]they've escaped to.

Does that make the movie less a film for teens, and more for adults looking back on their teen years?

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Well, it's my hope that it works for both young and older audiences. Michael [Cera]has a huge following with young people, but we're hoping that the older audiences will remember what it's like to be in love for the first time. Do you remember the first time you fell in love, and you were, like, "Oh, my God, all that baggage from my family that I hate is evaporated when I'm with this person - this is the person I want to be"? The first time you fall in love is a solution to your misery. Ha! Why is so much of the set design rooted in the 1970s, while the film is contemporary?

Well, you know, the heyday of the trailer was even earlier, and Northern California, where the novel is set, is a little bit stuck in that culture. We also discussed the film having a timelessness to it. We were like, "Let's not have cellphones everywhere, but let's also not pretend the cellphone doesn't exist." We came up with the idea that in some way, the film is in its own region of time.

The kids in the film are all desperate for something "real" - they covet vinyl records, they read literature from the previous century - is this an indirect response to the overmediated lives young people live today?

Hmmm. You know, it's true. In this movie, they write each other letters, which is so unusual, and yet so romantic. I think that they are people who want to have a more passionate and connected way of living. I hadn't thought about that, but their retro ways are in some ways an aspiration to having something more authentic.

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