Funny? Yes. For families? No.
By Roxana Hadadi
In the past few years, Michael Cera has played a boy in love with his cousin on “Arrested Development,” a boy in love with the title character in “Juno” and a boy in man-love with his best friend in “Superbad.” And much like none of those television shows and movies were necessarily appropriate for anyone younger than 16 or so, neither is “Youth In Revolt,” Cera’s latest – and most hilarious – film.
Though Cera is wonderful as Nick Twisp, a disgruntled, Frank Sinatra-worshipping 16-year-old who falls in love with the sophisticated, quirky Sheeni (Portia Doubleday, “18”) while on vacation in a trailer park with his lackadaisical mother Estelle (Jean Smart, “24”) and her truck driver boyfriend Jerry (a disappointingly underused Zach Galifianakis, “The Hangover”), “Youth in Revolt” is completely unsuitable for children, and probably not appropriate for most tweens or young teenagers, either. Instead, the subject matter (which is heavy on sex, silly hijinks and youth rebellion) is certainly lust-laden enough to fully deserve its R rating – it’s just also refreshingly funny for anyone comfortable enough with their teenagers to go and see it.
Based on a series of novels by author C.D. Payne, the film follows Nick, a straight-laced California teenager whose parents are both divorced and obsessed with sex – however, those lascivious qualities have not rubbed off on Nick. Instead, as a “voracious reader of classic prose,” Nick sees his hometown as “a city filled with women who have zero interest in me,” and when Jerry suggests a trip to his friend’s cabin to get away for a vacation with Estelle, Nick agrees to go along because “since I have no life, I figure I have nothing to lose.”
But what Nick does gain out of the trip to Restless Axles Trailer Park (turns out the skeezy, Three Wolves T-shirt-wearing Jerry was lying about the cabin) is an instant adoration for and gradual bond with the beautiful Sheeni, whose obsession with French films and constant sarcasm charm Nick’s heart. Though she claims to have a boyfriend named Trent (who supposedly writes “futuristic percussive poetry,” or as Nick says, has a “knack for smashing ungraceful words together”), Nick and Sheeni are soon hooking up, much to the chagrin of her religious parents – who are pleased, obviously, when the time comes for Nick’s family to leave the trailer park, and he to leave Sheeni.
Yet as the two go their Romeo-and-Juliet ways, Nick realizes that the only tactic he can use to fully win Sheeni’s heart is to abandon his good-guy methods and change everything about himself in order to not die a virgin. Since he’s ‘never had anything in my life that I’ve wanted to fight for so much,” Nick creates an alter ego, Francois Dillinger, who is “bold, contemptuous of authority and irresistible to women.” It’s Francois who urges him to start smoking; mouth off to his mother; mock her new boyfriend, policeman Lance Wescott (Ray Liotta, “Observe and Report”), while he’s disciplining him with his belt; and even burn down half of downtown Berkeley, a $5 million display of his bad-boy love. More goofy hijinks, disobeying of parents, lusty behavior “of disturbing insatiability” (private school uniforms play a role, fittingly) and criminal activity come into the picture during the film’s 90 minutes, and “Youth in Revolt” ends on a shockingly emotional and light-hearted note that is a pleasant cap to the film’s overall silliness.
And though the film isn’t really a family excursion, it’s perfectly cast and developed, making the plot wonderfully improbable but sincerely enjoyable. Cera is always solid as the awkward social misfit, but he outdoes himself as Francois – with a thin mustache, pinky ring, aviator glasses, and sneering contempt, he breaks down all of his previous type-casting and gives audiences a good glimpse of his very real talent. And the film’s supporting cast, which includes Fred Willard as Nick’s neighbor Mr. Ferguson, Steve Buscemi as his father George and Adhir Kalyan as friend Vijay, round out things with their own fantastic scenes, mainly involving immigration jokes and tirades against love. You know, the usual teenage fare.
Overall, though, the film is far from typical – but still not necessarily acceptable for anyone who isn’t old enough to be seeing an R movie anyway. There’s endless amounts of bad language, dirty talk, sexual allusions, animated couples going at it and a blatant disregard for public decorum – all profoundly hilarious, to be sure, yet distinctly not family-friendly.
Roxana Hadadi last wrote about “Avatar.”