Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Jean Smart, Justin Long, Fred Willard, Zach Galifianakis
Gustin Nash, Miguel Arteta, Michael Cera
Sometimes, you watch a film and think to yourself "Wow, that was sooooooo close to a good film."
"Youth in Revolt" is such a film.
Virtually every frame of "Youth in Revolt," based upon C.D. Payne's Nick Twisp novels, feels like it's on the verge of awesomeness. Unfortunately, while "Youth in Revolt" feels like it's on the edge of being something special, the film is ultimately a constant "near miss," a collection of scenes that dance around the idea of being a darkly romantic and edgy satire without ever actually fully committing to the cause of becoming a really great dark comedy.
The film stars Michael Cera as Nick Twisp, an intelligent, insightful and gosh darn polite young man whose artistic interests include Sinatra, Fellini and virtually all things with dignity and taste. Oh, and Nick is also a virgin. Nick lives with his 48-year-old mom (Jean Smart), her latest trashy boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis) and a largely uninvolved father (Steve Buscemi). On a family vacation, Nick meets the beautiful and free-spirited Sheeni (newcomer Portia Doubleday), a young woman who seemingly returns his attention though with less intensity. When it becomes apparent that Sheeni has a fondness for bad boys, Nick's alter-ego Francois (also Cera) appears on the scene and Nick undertakes a series of increasingly criminal acts in the name of "love" and being with Sheeni.
A second alter-ego in the Payne novels, Carlotta, is only briefly in the picture in "Youth in Revolt," with an appearance that is both convoluted and relatively pointless.
This points out what appears to be much of the problem with "Youth in Revolt," directed by Miguel Arteta ("The Good Girl"). Arteta seems to be trying so hard to make an ultra-cool, hipster flick that he ends up throwing several gimmicks at the screen that contribute little to nothing to the film's story or, for that matter, entertainment value.
Why does Arteta choose to show Francois as an entirely different human being? It contributes nothing.
What's with the incorporation of animation during transition scenes? It worked marvelously in the indie Aussie flick "Look Both Ways," but feels like a novelty here.
What's up with the soundbyte character development? While these characters are delightful and fleshed out in Payne's novels, in Arteta's film the brilliant Buscemi is utterly wasted and Ray Liotta shows up to do a mere variation of his usual bad cop routine. Among the supporting players, only Justin Long, as Sheeni's stoner brother, creates anything even remotely interesting with the character.
The real frustration lies in the fact that "Youth in Revolt" genuinely feels like it could have worked brilliantly. Cera, whose professional career has largely consisted of adorable nerds, gives hints of being able to stretch beyond being adorkable but it feels like either Arteta didn't trust him enough or the screenplay pulled back nearly every time he got close to something special. Cera and Doubleday have a nice chemistry and, especially in their early scenes, their romance feels like it could have been fleshed out as an absurd, silly and yet touching love story. Instead, "Youth in Revolt" too often dissolves into scenes that feel disconnected and elicit chuckles rather than genuine laughs with the exception of a scene near the film's end involving a car, a lake and a genuinely laugh out loud result.
While "Youth in Revolt" never collapses, it also never becomes the film it feels like it is meant to be. "Youth in Revolt" is merely a decent film, particularly sad given that everyone involved feels like they are capable of so much more.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic