Michael Cera’s act got old awful fast, didn’t it?
His gawky, stammering virgin routine, with the ﬂat, mumbled one-liners proved hilarious in Superbad, and earned incalculable amounts of goodwill on Arrested Development. But ever since, Cera has seemed stuck in ﬁrst gear, delivering an almost identical performance in every project, often in great danger of being usurped by his frizzy-haired, indie-darling doppelganger Jesse Eisenberg. (When reports surfaced that Cera was holding out for more money on the forthcoming Arrested movie, I suggested to a friend that the producers replace him with Eisenberg and pen a subplot involving George Michael’s conversion to Judaism.) Youth in Revolt is a bumbling mess of a movie, but at least it allows Cera to work a few different shadings on his patented nerd persona. Turns out this one-trick pony has a couple of surprises in him.
Based on the young adult novel by C.D. Payne, the ﬁ lm stars Cera as mopey, put-upon Nick Twist, sad-sack son to a slatternly, white-trash mother (Jean Smart) enduring countless humiliations from her white trash boyfriends, played broadly by Zach Galiﬁnakis. Then one summer Nick falls head over heels for the annoyingly named Sheeni Saunders (fetching newcomer Portia Doubleday, buried beneath over- written banter).
In a desperate attempt to woo the sophisticated, promiscuous Francophile Sheeni, young Nick invents an alternate persona named “Francois Dillinger,” a shit-talking, car-stealing arsonist with a bad moustache and a yen for cigarettes and vehicular mayhem. It’s as this rowdy alter ego that Cera ﬁnally breaks out, with dead-pan asshole line readings, voluminous profanity and an acerbic attitude that’s improbably hilarious when emanating from his wispy frame and babyface.
Playing out something like an I Was in a Teenage Fight Club, Youth in Revolt is too fuzzily plotted and lazily mounted to ever quite get a handle on the internal battle between Nick Twist and Francois Dillinger. Director Miguel Arteta (of Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl) favors a cheap, DIY aesthetic, missing the fantastical element required by the tale. Stranding valuable players like Ray Liotta and Steve Buscemi on the sidelines looking adrift, the movie barely makes it past an intriguing concept. But it’s heartening to watch Michael Cera try something different for a change. C-