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Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday in Youth in Revolt.

Chuy Chavez

2 out of 4 stars


Youth in Revolt

  • Directed by Miguel Arteta
  • Written by Gustin Nash
  • Starring Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday
  • Classification: 14A

With his doe-brown eyes, curly locks, lanky frame and velveteen voice, Michael Cera is the walking/talking embodiment of teenage vulnerability, and he's dined exclusively off that cute image throughout his young career - in Superbad , in Juno , in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist . It's a likeable piece of typecasting, and the guy is awfully good at polishing his rep. At least until now. In Youth in Revolt , Cera bellies up to the same table once too often. His fresh-faced act is starting to look really stale.

Admittedly, the actor gets no help from the script here. It's a weak adaptation of C.D. Payne's picaresque novel, the sort of screenplay that undermines the source material by consistently making wrong-headed decisions - on one hand, adding too much; on the other, not subtracting enough. Although the setting is allegedly Oakland, the locations are just a vague backdrop and the time seems completely out of joint - who knows when? Instead, in the opening frame, the movie finds its only certainty in cliché, when Cera's Nick Twisp emerges from beneath the bed sheets, having just enjoyed a DIY orgasm, to announce in plaintive voice-over: "Needless to say, I'm still a virgin." Needless, indeed.

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Directed by Miguel Arteta, Youth in Revolt stars Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday.

What follows, of course, is another odyssey in quest of bidding adieu to innocence. Nick's milieu is meant to be colourfully down market, but the white-trash decor feels too preciously contrived. Like his divorced parents - Mom (Jean Smart) is a blowsy bottle-blonde hooking up with her serial boyfriends; Dad (Steve Buscemi) is a demi-jerk who unaccountably enjoys the favours of a bikini-clad trophy babe. Somehow, despite his surroundings, Nick has emerged to transform himself into well, Michael Cera, with all the usual tropes impeccably intact - you know, the ironic, self-deprecating, genteel nerd, sufficiently cerebral (in this case, a fondness for classic lit and Fellini films) to spark deep-rooted fears that he'll never get laid.

By now, we ain't too worried for him. Soon enough, neither is he, when the trailer trash take a vacation to the trailer park and up pops the beautiful Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The girl has woeful parents too - they're a couple of religious fanatics - but the teens bond over their shared reverence for Godard and quickly get down to some heavy petting. All that's left is the climax at the climax, but, since that's two full acts away, there are obstacles to be thrown up, impediments to overcome. So, suddenly, supporting characters start breeding like brash rabbits and what began as a trite yet coherent yarn degenerates into a bumper-car collision of antic incidents. Literally, since cars are the star vehicles - they get parked in living rooms, they smash through shop windows, they plunge into shallow lakes, doing yeoman's work playing the gridlock in a stalled narrative.

Meanwhile, his love still unconsummated and understandably frustrated by these delaying tactics, Nick takes a page from the superhero's handbook and invents an alter ego, a bad boy named François. Why bad? Hey, 'cause he's French and has a mustache and smokes unfiltered cigarettes and peppers his speech with the very four-letter word that virginal Nick longs to act out. Since director Miguel Arteta chooses to put François on screen right next to his nerdy half, Cera finally has a chance to perform against type, to stretch his acting muscles and, for once, stop being so damned cute. And stretch he does - an inelastic millimetre or two. Asked to go from pussycat to tiger, all he does is meow louder.

It hardly matters. Cera may be trapped in his unchanging persona, but no more than this picture is walled in by its sitcom conventions. There, where loudness reigns - loud plots, loud characters - youths are reactionaries only posing as rebels, and their revolt is just noise in want of a laugh-track.

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