Thursday, January 14, 2010

Youth In Revolt

So far as I can tell, Youth In Revolt marks the first time Michael Cera has played anything but a variation on the George Michael Bluth theme. Granted, it comes in a film with two Cera performances, one of which is in fact that same ol' lovably awkward Cera schtick, but it still feels somehow historic.

Cera plays a dangerous sociopath named Nick Twisp who destroys two vehicles and most of a sidewalk with the aid of a couple jugs of gasoline and some downhill momentum. He does this in the name of getting laid, which justifies it, I guess (good thing nobody got hurt). To Nick the explosion and resulting fire was an accident - the actual perpetrator was François Dillinger, a self-invented "supplementary personality", played also by Michael Cera but with a cigarette and mustache.

François is many things to Nick Twisp. He's a sorely needed id, a companion and mentor, but also the manifestation of a psychotic break. The invention of François, in response to the stated desires of his crush, Sheeni, is a much darker device for exploring the lengths to which emo kids go for unattainable women than we normally find in sex comedies these days. Nick creates him consciously but quickly loses control, with often hilarious results.

There's a lot to like about the film, which features plenty of zaniness unseen in the trailers and a supporting ensemble performing well above what's expected of Indiewood Quirk. The film frequently operates as a subsersive send-up of the reference-heavy teenagers of Juno and its ilk. My favorite moment in the film comes when Nick refers to the director of Tokyo Story as Mizoguchi and Sheeni corrects him, to which Nick replies, "Well, really, what's the difference?" Lolz.

François himself is little more than a mocking reaction to Sheeni's desire to live inside a French New Wave film. When Sheeni goes on and on about wanting to live in Paris, it's almost word-for-word the speech we heard recently in An Education, only here the naked naivete of that adolescent desire is intentionally played for a laugh. As it should be.

Where the film fails is in not taking a stand on the question of Nick's reliance upon François. In the end, Nick VOs that he believes Sheeni loves him as Nick and not as François, despite the latter having been solely responsible for everything that has earned her attentions and affections. And while there are negative consequences for Nick to François' misadventures, his ability to stifle the alter ego after getting the girl and remain his own protagonist is decidely convenient and ultimately unsatisfying.

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