tue 28/06/2022

Youth in Revolt | reviews, news & interviews

Youth in Revolt

Youth in Revolt

Supernerd Michael Cera claims his crown as Nick Twisp

With a wackiness rating of 7.5 and a subject-matter (precocious teens coming of age over one long summer) that scores off the chart for over-familiarity, there seems every likelihood that Youth in Revolt will inspire audience revulsion. Luckily the film has on its side the unfussy directing style of Miguel Arteta (who has the warped buddy movie Chuck and Buck, as well as several episodes of Six Feet Under, in his favour), as well as a lively if not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is script adapted by Gustin Nash from C D Payne’s novel (the first in the “Journals of Nick Twisp” series). The clincher turns out to be someone who is fast becoming the ultimate secret weapon for any comedy: Michael Cera, King of the Nerds, High Priest of the Unfeasibly Pale and a near-god when it comes to putting a nutty tailspin on the simplest line.

Nick Twisp, played by Cera, may be an unusually cultured and intelligent 16-year-old, prone to the charms of Sinatra, but he’s no less susceptible to base desires than his peers. We hear Nick before we see him - his masturbatory grunts fills the soundtrack when the screen is still black - and pretty soon he is panting after Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), whom he meets during a family vacation to the Restless Axles trailer-park. Sheeni is beautiful, smart and sexually forthright. “Do you mind applying lotion to my exposed areas?” she asks Nick during a trip to a drab beach. When the poor dope complies, she chides him for his evident stimulation - “You get turned on easily!” Nick is helpless; he’s putty in her hands. But, as Woody Allen once asked, what use is a handful of putty?

Out of this dilemma materialises Nick’s suave French alter-ego, François, looking like a one-man Style Council revival club in his loafers and white trousers. Look beyond his leering gaze and bum-fluff moustache and it’s clear François is a man of action. “Be quiet and let me blow some shit up,” he warns Nick, and before long the mild-mannered loverboy is taking the rap for the destruction caused by his naughty pal. On the plus side, he’s also impressing Sheeni with his new-found confidence in love. The masterstroke here is to have Cera play François too: we’ve never seen him louche or wicked before, and if there’s a slight sense of self-consciousness in his departure from familiar ground, it’s still a blast to behold. The fact that the film ends with Nick being dragged away in handcuffs while wearing a dress and posing as a dainty young maiden named Carlotta completes fully the first step in Cera’s campaign to show that he can do more than simper.

It’s fair to say he makes the film fly: his comic assurance holds it together, just about. There’s a ragbag of stylistic effects - some claymation and an animated photo-montage, as well as a scene in which the illustrations in a sex manual float free of the page. The cast-list is sprinkled with nice cameo turns (Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, M. Emmet Walsh, Fred Willard) that fail to make much of a mark. The picture also provides further proof, as if any were needed after Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, that psychedelic trips aren’t much fun for the observer.

It has something else in common with that film: a nifty soundtrack. With his fresh take on well-worn material, Arteta might well have taken his cue from the number he plays over the opening credits: "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)."

  • Youth in Revolt is released on 5 February

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