“Does that movie come with tampons?” a bully mocks the teenage Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) as he’s renting a copy of La Strada from the video store. Nick, the sensitive hero of Youth in Revolt, is a shy, gangly kid who tolerates adolescence more than he experiences it. An aspiring writer, Sinatra devotee and hopeless virgin, Nick is quietly resigned to the fact that he’ll have to wait out his torturous high-school years before his life can really begin.
Then Nick meets Sheeni (Portia Davenport), an odd, spirited girl who knows who Jean-Paul Belmondo and Yasujiro Ozu are, who loves Tokyo Story and Serge Gainsbourg and wants to live in Paris someday. Sheeni lives in a trailer park with her “religious fanatic” parents, but her world view is grand and adventurous and enticing, and, unlike most girls her age, she doesn’t just look right through Nick: She actually gets him, and she seems to like what she sees.
And suddenly, Nick’s life changes. Adapted by screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Miguel Arteta from the cult novel by C.D. Payne, Youth in Revolt follows what happens when a good kid turns hilariously rotten for the sake of love.
“You have to be bad, Nicky,” Sheeni implores. “Be very, very bad.” The lovestruck boy complies by conjuring an alter ego: Francois (also played by Cera), who sports blue eyes, a pencil moustache and a reckless, defiant attitude.
Like Jiminy Cricket’s evil twin, Francois constantly encourages Nick to engage in the sort of rebellious behavior that could land him in juvenile detention and raise the ire of his mother’s policeman boyfriend (Ray Liotta). Vandalism, the destruction of public property, cross-country road trips and hiding out from the law are some of the escapades in which Nick participates, all for the sake of growing closer to his beloved. Sheeni hasn’t definitely broken things off with her poet, champion-swimmer boyfriend. But you have to have hope, right?
Director Arteta (The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck), who has previously demonstrated a flair for empathy with people on the fringes of life, keeps on the side of the increasingly mischievous (but always polite) Nick, played with Cera’s typical mix of affable nerdiness and intelligence. Francois is a radically different sort — an affected, comically evil bad boy — and the conceit frees up something in Cera, allowing him to dive into the role of a suave troublemaker without worrying about the consequences. Francois is pure id, a refreshing change of pace for an actor who specializes in playing super egos, and the slight but enjoyable Youth in Revolt finds plenty of mayhem to take advantage of Cera’s against-type performance. Oh, the things we do for love.
Cast: Michael Cera, Portia Davenport, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Fred Willard.
Director: Miguel Arteta.
Screenwriter: Gustin Nash. Based on the novel by C.D. Payne.
Producer: David Permut.
A Dimension Films release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief nudity, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.