The M/C Review: 'Youth In Revolt' proves to be excellent fit for Michael Cera
Fans of the cult novel should be pleased with the spirit of the adaptation
When I was on the set of "Year One," I had a chance to chat with Michael Cera about other things he was considering as a follow-up film. "Scott Pilgrim" rumors were circulating at that point, and although he was still only in the negotiation stage, we spent a good deal of time talking about C.D. Payne's trilogy of comic novels published collectively as Youth In Revolt.
One thing was clear after our conversation: those books are important to Cera, just as they've been important to a huge number of readers in the years since they were first published, and the only way Michael wanted to be involved was if he could do justice to the book he was so obviously loved.
The good news for other fans of the book is that Miguel Arteta's film version may not be 100% true to the book in terms of every single event, but it absolutely nails it in spirit. When the trailer for the film was released, I was worried that this blisteringly dirty and hilarious book had been neutered. Truth is, that trailer does a great job of making a genuinely funny and even insightful film look like a giant pile of crap. Well played, Weinstein Company. Well played.
There's nothing new about the underlying premise of the film: a young man is desperate to get laid, and he goes to outrageous lengths to make it happen. There's an entire genre dedicated to that plot, and "Youth In Revolt" does little to reinvent things. The appeal here is the character work and the darker-than-average sense of humor, and that's where fans of Nick Twisp are going to feel well-served.
Nick Twisp (Cera) is a fairly average teenage boy, smart and struggling to define his own personality and cripplingly horny with no foreseeable way to resolve that in the near future. He lives with his divorced mother Estelle (Jean Smart) and whichever loser she happens to be banging. As the film begins, the lucky scumbag is Jerry (Zach Galafianakis), who has a bad habit of totally cheating sailors by selling them crappy used cars. When one particular bad deal goes worse than normal, they have to take a "vacation" to a remote trailer park for a few weeks until things blow over.
Enter Sheeni Saunders.
[more after the jump]
Played by Portia Doubleday, Sheeni is Nick's dream girl. She's gorgeous, sexually frank, and unlike anyone Nick's ever met. And even better, she's interested in him. For the first time ever, Nick's attracted to someone and there's some chance that they're equally attracted to him. It ain't that easy, though, of course, because it's never that easy. Sheeni's crazy religious parents (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place), her seemingly-perfect sometimes boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright), geographical separation, predatory roommates, freaky jealous schoolgirls, and French all stand in the way of Nick's happiness. So he has no choice but to destroy his own personality and reinvent himself as a bad boy. A very, very, very bad boy.
Here's where the movie strikes at something real, even amidst the broad comedy, and it's also the thing I really haven't seen in a film like this before. Nick doesn't just misbehave a little... he loses his damn fool mind and ends up destroying cars, starting fires that burn down entire city blocks, drugging people, and running from the cops. And while it's played for comedy, there's a real pathology there that I can relate to, because there were times in my teenage years where I also lost my damn fool mind. When I started working at a movie theater at the age of 16, I was thrown in with older girls for the first time, and one in particular took mercy on me. I was hyperverbal, movie-obssessed, sarcastic to the point of cruelty, and so hopped up on the idea of getting sex that I barely knew how to talk to a girl. At 19, she was greatly entertained by the mania, and we started dating. My parents, to their credit, knew exactly what the deal was, and they objected from the very start. They felt like I was going to be exposed to things that were beyond my experience, and they were right. That's what I wanted, though, and no matter how much they tried to stop me from seeing her, I just pushed back even harder.
I would sneak out my window at night. I smoked as much pot as Florida could grow. I ran away from home for a week to make the point that I was an adult. It was all typical adolescent rebellion, and it all drove them completely insane. It wasn't about them, but they were the ones who had to take all the collateral damage, and it came to a head with an afternoon where I had driven the family van to work at the theater. I knew what the rules were. I was allowed to take the van to work and back, and that's it. That's all they trusted me with as far as their car was concerned, and on that particular afternoon, I proved every single fear of theirs right. My manager asked me if I could run to Orlando to pick up a print that had been misdelivered, and the correct answer to that question would have been "Hell no." But my girlfriend was working that day, and she was standing right there when he asked me, and knowing that she knew the rule, I determined that the easiest way to prove myself independent was to answer, "Absolutely."
Couple of problems. First, there was no heat in the van, and it was a freezing cold rainy day. So no matter what I did, the windows of the van kept fogging over from the inside, and the three hour trip ended up taking almost six hours. When I got to Orlando and parked the van, I didn't realize that the parking lot was one of those with the cement strips at the head of every parking space, and so when I went to pull out, I drove right over one of them, dropping the entire undercarriage of the van onto the cement strip with a sound that made several major internal organs shut down in fear. I sat there for a few minutes, unsure what to do. No one was around, so I figured there might be a chance for me to get away without anyone noticing what I'd done. But I didn't know if I should back up or drive forward, not sure which would do less damage to the van. I was still thinking I could return it to my parents without them knowing what I'd done.
I chose poorly.
When I went to back up, I couldn't. The cement divider was high enough, and wedged firmly enough into the metal sheeting on the side of the van that there was no easy way to go in either direction. I decided to gun it to see if that would help, and in doing so, I managed to peel a giant strip of metal off the bottom passenger's side of van, curling it back like the top of a sardine can.
Halfway back to Tampa, dread growing in my gut with each passing mile, I had to stop to get gas, and I was so upset, so profoundly discombobulated, that as I pulled into the station, I cut the turn too close, and I managed to hit a tall yellow cement pole, dragging it along the entire driver's side, gouging more metal out as I did so. At that point, I started entertaining fantasies about faking my own death and fleeing to another continent. Of course I ended up going home and facing my parents, but to this day, I've never been able to explain the order of events to them or, more importantly, my motivation. Because when you're in a situation like that, one bad choice snowballs into another bad choice and then another, and then all of a sudden, you're standing in your underwear on top of a quarry, driving your car into a lake in hopes that the police will believe you drowned.
Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday both turn out to be inspired casting here. Doubleday is very cute, but there's an adult quality to her that makes her seem much older than she is. She's a great foil for Cera, who does work here that goes a long way to disproving the idea that he's simply a collection of now-familiar tics and mannerisms. I don't buy that complaint to begin with... I think it sells his innate comic timing short. But at this point, he needed to do something that took him out of his comfort zone, and when Nick creates an alternate personality (seen and heard only by him) that helps advise him on how to be bad, "Francois Dillinger" turns out to be a delicious opportunity for the young comic actor to play something radically different.
Miguel Arteta has been making films and directing TV for about 12 years now, starting with "Star Maps" and "Chuck and Buck," and his indie sensibility keeps this from feeling like a routine sex comedy or a hollow studio exercise. The book was so profoundly dirty that I thought it was unfilmable, but Gustin Nash's screenplay and the way Arteta shoots things manages to (A) preserve much of the tougher material in the book and (B) somehow make it palatable.
I was surprised when The Weinstein Company moved this last week, especially since many of the people I spoke to in Toronto really liked the film. Considering how long I've been hearing bad buzz about this one, I was pleased with the film, and it's just further proof that you can't always believe buzz. I'm not sure why they moved it, but if you've been waiting to see these books onscreen, or if you just want to see a smart, sincere comedy about how insane teen hormones make us, "Youth In Revolt" is well worth the wait.
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