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dvd review: youth in revolt

The tagline for each and every Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno) film might as well read, “Michael Cera as Michael Cera.”  The young, geek-chic actor has carved himself a niche playing socially awkward, smart and sweet young men opposite tough and quirky girls (such as Arrested Development’s Alia Shawcat and Juno’s Ellen Page).  Youth in Revolt, a film that did not receive an Australian release, banks heavily on this star’s particular brand of anti-star appeal.  Cera does, however, get to show another side in this film.  It’s about a young man with a split personality, after all.

Based on the novel by C. D. Payne, Youth in Revolt is a quirky, satirical film that follows the character Nick Twisp (Cera), a kid on the cusp of becoming a man: obsessed with losing his virginity, or even getting a first kiss.  When he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) it appears that Nick has met the girl of his dreams.  Or at the very least, a girl who doesn’t seem particularly opposed to the idea of dating him.  But Sheeni is a hard girl to hold on to, and in trying to prove his machismo and sexual prowess Nick’s mind develops a alter-ego: the snake-hipped, mustached Frenchman Francois Dillinger.  Which would be all well and good, except that Francois is something of a juvenile delinquent – and Nick is soon on the run from the law.  While trying to cope with family drama, woo a flibbertigibbet young girl, and control his arsonist alter ego, it seems unlikely that Nick will survive, let alone ever get laid.

It’s true that at times the film drags – mostly when the script concentrates too heavily on the pseudo-eccentricity of Nick, trying to make us believe he is actually an interesting character – but the scenes with Cera’s fantastic Francois are hilarious.

Youth in Revolt isn’t a perfectly put-together film, but its attempt to create something different should be applauded.  It tries to show the sex-obsessed side of the young male brain, without falling prey to extreme crassness of other “boy’s” films like Superbad.  It tries to show a realistic teen relationship, without the twee sickly-sweetness that some have criticized Juno for displaying.  This is because of the black-humour of the script: the characters and situations are exaggerated to the point of unreality, but in doing so some essential truth is more clearly demonstrated.

Combined with a great soundtrack, a few of stop-motion animated scenes to add visual flavour, and black humour, Youth in Revolt is definitely worth the rental cost.  Teen films have become depressingly sanitized in recent years, and it is refreshing to see director Miguel Arteta (who directed an episode of cult-classic Freaks and Geeks back in the day) creating something darker and edgier.  It’s altogether more honest, and anything but revolting.

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