I cannot be the only one who suffered through this experience: as a high school student who had been raised on books (mostly nineteenth-century novels) and not television, I had an abnormally large vocabulary, but not much experience with the world outside my own. I would whip out a five-dollar word that I'd never realized people only use in books, like nefarious, or irascible, or depredation. The situation worsened when I went to an engineering college and got equally cross-eyed looks for saying engender or innocuous. Sufficiently shamed by a body of knowledge I didn't even realize I had, I stopped using big or obscure words. I was weird.
Youth in Revolt, based on the novel with a cult following, is a story for us of the big words and the naïveté—who were sometimes good, not always because we wanted to be, but because we couldn't figure out how to be bad. Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a high school student, loves books, foreign films, and jazz. His parents—emphatically not aesthetes—are divorcing, and each has their own inappropriate live-in paramour. But Nick lives with his Mom (Jean Smart), and when her boyfriend, Jerry (Zach Galifanakis), ends up with people coming after him, they decide to get out of town quick via a spur-of-the-moment, week-long vacation to the beach.
Nick is a misfit in his world, but during this brief exile he meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a beautiful girl who also can converse intelligently about the French New Wave. She's the perfect girl for Nick, but she has a mysterious boyfriend and some exceedingly religious parents (their two-story trailer home's doorbell plays "Rock of Ages"). Nick falls desperately in love with Sheeni, but must return home. So he concocts a plan to get kicked out of his mother's house, go live with his father (Steve Buscemi), and talk his father into getting a job in Sheeni's town, and eventually take Sheeni away from her life into one where they'll both feel at home. And, Nick hopes, he'll finally lose his virginity. It's so crazy that it's got to work.
The only problem is that Nick is unfailingly polite and well-behaved, the kind of teenage son every mother wants. What to do? Desperate, Nick concocts a chain-smoking French alter ego named Francois who will do all the things he won't do: swear at his parents, damage property, burn things down. The naïve Nick throws hysterical wrenches into Francois's plans. Sheeni's parents aren't impressed. The fun is just beginning.
Michael Cera is practically his own genre, all members of which are variations on the innocent, good-hearted George Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. From Juno to Superbad to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, we can know what we're getting when we go to a Michael Cera film: wide-eyed naivete, a teenager with an old soul that renders him uncomfortable with the attitudes of his peers.
Nick Twisp is definitely that character. But in Youth in Revolt, Cera gets to play both the guy next door and the devil-may-care bad boy, Francois, and grow a moustache, wear white jeans, and smoke. (Is Cera playing his own alter ego?) And he's got chops: a mean stare and an excellent nasty attitude. There's more to Michael Cera than the lovable boy scout.
Youth in Revolt is a funny (and at times hysterical) movie—oversexed and raunchy, to be sure, but also sweet. It should not be surprising that the characters, like many of their contemporaries, equate sex with love; on the other hand, Nick really does love Sheeni, and he is desperately interested in her. We can be reasonably certain that they'll figure out a way to be together.
The film's weakest point, which will probably not dissuade fans of the book, is that it is simply too episodic. Life is a series of events that are strung together, but that's somehow unsettling in movies. But the dialogue is funny and tight, and a cast of stellar supporting actors keep things interesting.
Youth in Revolt starts out like most traditional coming-of-age stories, but skews absurdist fairly quickly, making it something else altogether. Nick is not really coming of age; he's already more mature than most of the people around him. But he's coming into his own as a young man by revolting against himself—however ineptly.Discussion starters
- Have you ever felt like a misfit? What did you do to try to fit in? Was it worth it?
- What do you think of Sheeni and Nick's relationship? What foundation is it built on? Do you think it will last? What foundation do relationships need to succeed?
- What is the relationship between sex and love? What ways do characters in the movie confuse the two? Does anyone have the concept right? Why do people so often conflate sex with love?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Youth in Revolt is rated R for sexual content, language, and drug use. There is a lot of frank and often explicit talk about sex between teenagers. In a few scenes, characters (including teenagers) have sex, though we don't see them naked; the nudity is reserved for a book with explicit line-drawn diagrams of various sexual positions, and the main character later hallucinates and sees the diagrams floating around. Characters take drugs and use profanity, including many f-bombs.
Photos © Dimension Films
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