In everything from Arrested Development to big screen hits Superbad and Juno, Michael Cera has traded mainly in self-negating humor and muttered, sardonic asides. He shakes loose of that character template (well, partially, at least) in Youth in Revolt, a picaresque booster shot of wily irreverence that puts a fresh, outrageous spin on adolescent obsession and rebellion.
Based on the acclaimed novel by C.D. Payne, and brought to the screen with flair by Miguel Arteta — who injects stop motion animation into the opening credits and works in a splashy palette of primary colors — the film stars Cera as Nick Twisp, an affable, artistically inclined, shoe-gazing teenager who doesn’t feel at home with either of his divorced parents (Jean Smart and Steve Buscemi). On vacation with his mom and her loser boyfriend, Nick falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful, free-spirited Sheeni (charming newcomer Portia Doubleday, above right). After he’s forced to return home, Nick abandons his buttoned-up niceties and, at Sheeni’s urging, initiates a campaign of revolt to try to get shipped off to stay with his father, closer to his new crush.
Certain elements of the story here don’t totally connect (the perfectly polite Sheeni’s encouragement of Nick’s pursuit despite the fact that she has a boyfriend, for instance), and the concluding narration reaches for a grand stab at self-actualization that isn’t there. Still, all the performances are terrifically funny, and the dialogue is smart and crackling without tipping over into the hyper-articulate style of Juno that that so rankled some.
The film most catches fire when it grants Cera permission to cut loose with “supplementary persona” Francois Dillinger, a mustachioed Casanova that the young actor plays with narrow eyes and a big cat’s stalking state of mind, as a sort of cross between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden. Understand that when Nick says to Sheeni, “I’ve never had something in my life I wanted to fight for so much” he’s really, subconsciously, talking about his quest to lose his virginity, and Youth in Revolt is every bit the same sort of raised-stakes love lust story that has teenage girls squirming in their seats during Twilight. (Dimension, R, 90 minutes)