Youth in Revolt
Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Mary Kay Place, Justin Long, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Ari Graynor, Adhir Kalyan. (2010, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 8, 2010
Youth in Revolt was first set to open this fall, but it was a smart move to wait: It’s a sweetly dippy underachiever better-suited to small-stakes January. Taken from C.D. Payne’s early Nineties epistolary novel, Youth in Revolt chronicles the tortured life of Nick Twisp (Cera), a teen living mostly friendlessly in Oakland, Calif. Mom (Smart) runs through a string of loutish boyfriends; Dad (Buscemi, in an ill-defined role) is schtupping a blonde closer to Nick’s age than his own (in fact, she’s played by Graynor, who was the funny-drunk compatriot of Cera in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). Nick’s life takes a turn for the better, however, when a family outing to a trailer park puts him in the path of Sheeni Saunders (Doubleday). She’s sharp, educated, and cool to touch, at home in bikinis and Fifties shirtdresses. She drives Nick wild, and she even lets him kiss her some, but only close-mouthed stuff. Which is for the best, I suppose: One can’t quite imagine Cera, ever baby-faced and halting, jamming his tongue down a girl’s throat. Cera is fine here, and his range broadens some when Nick invents an alter ego named François – chain-smoking, troublemaking – because, as Nick puts it, “my one and only love wants me to be bad.” Gustin Nash’s script consistently delivers on situational laughs, even if he never shades in the characters beyond mere pencil sketch. And given the edgy bent of director Arteta’s stand-out earlier work (The Good Girl, Chuck & Buck), there’s a surprising lack of bite to the film. What Youth in Revolt most seems to be channeling is the spirit of Savage Steve Holland and his quintessentially Eighties artifacts Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer: virginal smart alecks, fun with mixed media, and a healthy high/low humor spread. Arteta’s take offers nothing particularly riotous – and were we not promised revolt? – but it’s an enjoyable enough exercise in teen angst triumphing.