Eugene Weekly : Movies : 1.21.10


Paulie Gets a Moustache
Michael Cera does Michael Cera — and more
by Molly Templeton

YOUTH IN REVOLT: Directed by Miguel Arteta. Written by Gustin Nash, based on the novel by C.D. Payne. Cinematography, Chuy Chávez. Editors, Andy Keir and Pamela Martin. Music, John Swihart. Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Erik Knudsen, Steve Buscemi, Ari Graynor, Fred Willard, Adhir Kalyan and Justin Long. Dimension Films, 2010. R. 90 minutes.

Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday in Youth In Revolt

That three-star rating is for those of you who, like me, are still suckers for the Michael Cera schtick. (It is also, as star ratings always are, subjective, flawed and difficult to decide on.) If you are still a fan of Cera in such wildly diverse roles as George Michael Bluth (Arrested Development), Nick (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Paulie Bleeker (Juno), Evan (Superbad) and that caveman dude in Year One, you’re in. His carefully modulated levels of awkwardness; his slightly stilted manner of speaking; his wide-eyed ability to be totally observant and totally clueless at once; his way of carrying his thin frame as though it’s taking up more space than it is — these things must still charm you, or Youth In Revolt will fall flat.

To be fair, there is a bit of non Cera-related flatness to Revolt, which takes a thick, madcap, complicated novel and smooths it into a strangely humble and mild little comedy in which Cera, as teenage Nick Twisp, causes a considerable amount of mayhem in the name of love. Nick, like all the other good guys in his world, speaks rather formally, listens to vinyl and likes classic films and novels. He’s also deeply concerned with sex (we meet him in an intimate moment with himself). Understandably, his very normal, very divorced parents (Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart) seem slightly baffled as to how this child is the product of their union. 

Circumstances contrive to send young Nick out of town for a week. At Restless Axles, a trailer park somewhere in California, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), who can out-cool him on topics ranging from foreign directors to the relative visibility of signs of arousal in men and women. Sheeni is also the child of completely inappropriate parents (religious fundamentalists played by M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place). It’s love. It’s a disaster.

But this disaster is always writ small. Even a havoc-wreaking explosion comes off like a really expensive inconvenience rather than a crrrrazy, yuk-it-up comedy set piece. Revolt’s rhythms are a little unnerving at first, and the trailer, as trailers so often do, misleads audiences into expecting another kooky teen comedy. This movie, from The Good Girl director Miguel Arteta, is a touch more subtle. The same silly stuff happens — drugs, sex, nudity (Fred Willard, half naked and tripping, is a highlight), crime, annoying rivals, parental involvement, insurmountable obstacles to true love — but it’s played so straight, it almost seems realistic.  Well, with one key exception: François Dillinger. 

When Sheeni needs uptight, nervous Nick to rebel, he just can’t. So he creates a “supplementary persona” in unrestrained, fearless, possibily dangerous (he even smokes!) François. As François, Cera has a different walk, a creepy moustache and eerie blue contacts; he’s intense and weird and, playing against Cera-as-Nick, definitely a change of pace for the actor. It’s not an entirely drastic change, but it’s evidence that he can do something a little different after all. Which, for suckers like me, is all the more reason to like him — and the movie.