Michael Cera, that geek-who-gets-the-girl of Juno and Superbad fame, hasn’t got a mean bit of marrow in his body. Or has he?
Well, with director Miguel Arteta at the wheel, all bets are off. Lest we forget, this is the man who drew a dazzlingly dowdy performance from Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl, perhaps the only film in the ex-Friends’ repertoire to be of any genuine merit. But does the Puerto Rican grant Cera the same generous typecast-busting? Half-and-half, say we. Quite literally, as the King of Geek plays a horny young nerd whose character splits in two.
As Nick Twisp, Cera plays an intellectual doormat who dreams of having a girlfriend, but lacks both the attitude and the aptitude to land one. Which is where devious alter ego Francois Dillinger comes in; a chain-smoking, slacks-wearing, be-‘tached delinquent who delights in anarchy and chaos.
The cause of this fractured psyche? Why, a girl, of course. Portia Doubleday’s temperamental temptress Sheeni, to be exact. When she and Twisp meet at a holiday camp, the latter falls head-over-hard-on for the French-loving beauty, and births his scheming alternate identity to get him what he wants.
Clearly revelling in playing a youth far more revolting than previous incarnations, Cera steals the show with split-screen interactions that resemble The Parent Trap gone horribly, horribly wrong. Chomping on magic mushrooms, blowing up cars and generally being a right belligerent devil, it’s the Twisp/Dillinger mayhem that earns the film its darkly comic tone.
But like the gangly one’s character, Arteta’s film suffers from something of a split personality. At one end of the pitch, there’s a scathing comedy of errors, one that actively seeks out its characters’ flaws and magnifies them until they bloat into broad farce. On the opposing team, there’s an American Pie-begging romp that involves masturbation gags and girls’ school break-ins.
A little too manic for its own good, Youth in Revolt is restless and unruly. Too often forcibly mean-spirited, it only elicits a handful of genuine laughs. Which is sad, considering its goldmine supporting cast, which includes Steve Buscemi as Cera’s wayward father, Jean Smart as his over-dependent mother, Ray Liotta her cop squeeze and Justin Long as Sheeni’s drugged-up sib.
Come August, Cera will be doing battle in Edgar Wright’s comic book adap Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Can he stretch himself into new, interesting territory? There’s promise, and we don’t mind holding our breath… But if he doesn’t allow his geek-chic image to graduate soon, Cera could find himself with a bit of an audience revolt on his hands.
Anticipation: Michael Cera plays another girl-chasing geek. Yawn. 2
Enjoyment: Cera’s on top form, while the darker twists bring something new to the table. Still, it’s all a little déjà vu… 3
In Retrospect: Devilish alt-ego aside, this is mostly more of the same. Sadly, easily forgettable. 2