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July 2010

Youth In Revolt

cast: Michael Cera, Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, and Portia Doubleday

director: Miguel Arteta

85 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 12 July]

RATING: 8/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Youth In Revolt

I didn't ask to review Youth In Revolt. It's a teen romantic comedy based on a young adult novel I've never heard of. It's not the sort of film I generally watch. I only took it for review at all because it's being released by the same distribution company as The Crazies and reviewing one meant reviewing the other. It's perhaps ironic then how much I enjoyed it.

Youth In Revolt stars Michael Cera as Nick Twisp. Nick's a teenage intellectual living with his working class mother (played Jean Smart), and her boyfriend of the moment. Nick has no girlfriend, has never had a girlfriend and looks likely never to have one. It seems girls in California just don't relate to his love of Sinatra and Fellini.

Things change when the trio head to a supposed country retreat belonging to a friend of the boyfriend and which actually turns out to be a trailer park. There Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). She's beautiful, she's smart, and she likes him. There are only two problems. She already has a handsome and successful older boyfriend (a jock and a poet), and her passion for French cinema means that when she grows up she wants to move to Paris and fall in love with a Frenchman.

Despite all that, love (or at least affection) starts to blossom. Soon, though, Nick's mother has to take him back home. The romance is over just as its starting. If Nick only lived with his father (Steve Buscemi), whose place is near the trailer park, he could keep seeing Sheeni and maybe in time get her to dump her boyfriend for him. The problem with that is that Nick's mother depends on child maintenance money for her lifestyle; there's no way she'll let Nick go.

Sheeni comes up with a solution. She tells Nick that if he's very, very bad his mother will want rid of him and will send him to his father. Then they can be together. What more motivation does a boy need? Nick goes home where his mother soon finds herself with another passing boyfriend (Ray Liotta as a uniformed cop), and where Nick finds that being bad isn't as easy as it sounds when you're well behaved and by nature a nice kid.

I'm not going to write much more about the plot, but basically what's above is the setup. Nick creates an alter-ego, Francois Dillinger, a French version of himself dressed in Euro-chic fashion and smoking a thin cigarette. Nick can't be bad, but Francois has no problem with it at all...

With the arrival of Francois, the film becomes engagingly silly. Francois leads Nick on a crime spree for love, and soon Nick's wanted by the police - and perhaps by Sheeni too. If Nick can just keep out of jail, he may even lose his virginity.

The cast is uniformly good. Michael Cera in particular shines in the lead role(s). As Nick he's smart, vulnerable and very young, while as Francois he becomes smoothly ruthless. Many of the film's best and funniest scenes are those in which Nick and Francois discuss what to do next or argue with each other.

Portia Doubleday combines innocence and adolescent sophistication to good effect and makes Sheeni an interesting character in her own right - not just a McGuffin in female form as is so common in this genre. The other players, Jean Smart (particularly strong here), Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, Justin Long, and many other recognisable faces are all equally on form with their supporting roles.

Youth In Revolt doesn't sound good on paper. When I say it's a teen comedy about a geek trying to lose his virginity with a pretty, but more worldly, girl - that sounds incredibly formulaic. The difference here to the majority of films of this type is a simple one: execution. This is a well directed film with a good cast and the confidence to play the ludicrous situations it comes up with entirely straight. There's no mugging for laughs here, and that makes it a whole lot funnier.

This is not a film that seeks to break new cinematic ground. It is however a film with charm to spare and I was thoroughly charmed by it.

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