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Youth in Revolt


 “Youth In Revolt” is deeply indebted to the revolutionary early 1970s filmmaking of Arthur Penn and Hal Ashby. Anarchic, with a sense of whimsy, the comedy harks back to a time when artistry and ingenuity was more essential than blockbuster status.  Based on a cult novel by C.D. Payne, “Youth In Revolt” relishes in subversive humor which is delivered deliciously by an ensemble cast including Fred Willard, Mary Kay Place, Jean Smart and led by the current It nebbish boy, Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Superbad”).


Nick Twisp (Cera) hates his last name; he hates his dull life and his empty family dynamics.  He hides in his imagination until he meets Sheeni, the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday), a youthful vixen who appears to have a dangerous hold over him.  A five-foot tall femme fatale, Sheeni leads Nick towards rebellious behavior, with hilariously disastrous results.


Director Miguel Arteta uses visuals for humor that is reminiscent of the vanguard days of the 70s.  Most memorable is Cera showering in the trailer park bathroom after meeting Sheeni.  In slow motion, he water washes over him, dripping thick streams of water over his body, massaging his head like fingers. Had this been a shapely female in the shower, the exact same shot would have been sexually charged, but because the bather is gawky Cera, the effect is an ebullient visual joke. Arteta also builds suspense like a master of slapstick in two scenes involving out of control automobiles.


Arteta specializes in tales of decent people driven out of desperation to do indecent things.  Very similar to his earlier film ”The Good Girl” where heroine Jennifer Aniston attempts murder when overwhelmed, here perpetual innocent Nick creates a devious alter-ego named François to vandalize, steal and demolish  everything in his tracks. Arteta is masterful at getting the audience to sympathize with someone entirely out of control.


It’s not surprising that screenwriter Gustin Nash would be drawn to the material since his last script, “Charlie Bartlett”, focused on an unruly boy who sells pharmaceuticals at a prep school.  The first film always felt slightly off track, like the humor was forced.  This script has a better grasp of the farcical elements, and making despicable characters compelling.


The empathy would not be possible without Cera, a boy next door who seems incapable of anything naughty. Cera fits perfectly into this milieu in a role reminiscent of the 60’s poster boy for rebellion and exasperation, Benjamin Braddock (“The Graduate”). The film allows Cera also to step outside his persona by playing Nick’s alter-ego, a calculating Euro-trash radical with a wispy mustache, a cigarette dangling from between his ring and pinkie fingers and disdain for EVERYONE. Never before has Cera allowed himself to be so contemptuous.


Newcomer Doubleday, seductive but standoffish, is delightfully coy, the kind of girl that any high school boy would dream about. That she pretentiously speaks in French and quotes foreign films makes her all the more perfect for the bored Nick.


The winning supporting cast only adds to the laughs.  As his vacuous, self-involved folks, Jean Smart and Steve Buscemi are more enamored with their material things and too-young love interests then their own flesh and blood.  As representatives of the moral majority, Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh portray all the hypocrisy that can be found in holier-than-thou parents whose restrictive rearing manages to raise a young tart and a pot-head. Rounding out the cast is the always goofy Fred Willard as a slightly wacked neighbor.


The marriage of Miguel Arteta and Michael Cera is a winner, one that taunts the audience while offering them a special treat.  Grade: A-


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