Film Review

YOUTH IN REVOLT

BY DAVID WILDMAN

This latest Michael Cera vehicle raises an important question: If a film with an overdone premise and an overexposed, squirm-inducing star proves to be watch-able, does that make it worthwhile?  For me, Cera’s nerdy nice-guy persona has long overstayed its welcome. Sure, he was good in Arrested Development and excellent in Superbad, but by the time I’d suffered through Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and, gag, sputter, Year One, I was done. So it strikes me as somewhat amazing that I found his performance at the center of this uneven little trifle palatable and borderline enjoyable.

As if to up the ante from the outset, the film starts off with a particularly unsavory scenario: the sounds of Cera in the throes of sexual ecstasy. Then the camera focuses in and our worst fears are realized: he is alone and spanking the sausage in bed. From there his character Nick Twisp, in voiceover, recounts his miserable life and his virginal status. His mother (Jean Smart) is a standard order trashy, busty divorcee with a shifty boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis) who has apparently sold a bunch of sailors a defective car. In order to escape their wrath, the three jump in a car and head off to live in a dingy trailer in some lakeside camp ground (for this “travelin’” scene, director Miguel Arteta tosses in a pointlessly whimsical animation sequence).  Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) the quirky and cute girl of his dreams, who openly talks about her “moist vagina” and spouts bizarre “French Percussionist” poetry, ostensibly written by her supposed French boyfriend.

She falls for him a little too easy, but then again, the first act takes far too long in its setup as it is, so I was happy to do without boilerplate bumbling courtship scenes. Things start to get a little more interesting when Nick has to leave the campground. In order to return, he hatches a plan to get sent into the custody of his father (a tragically castrated Steve Buscemi) and out of the clutches of his mother, who has now taken up with a dirty cop (Ray Liotta). To accomplish this, Nick invents a ruthless persona, Francoise Dillinger, who goads him into stealing his mother’s car, setting it on fire and crashing it into a restaurant. It works, and he goes to live with his father, who he’s managed to trick into getting a job up near the campground. Then he calls Sheeni and brags about what a baddass he’s been, but her mother is listening on the other line, and so she gets sent away to school. His Francoise side convinces him to go visit and bang her, along with his friend, who sleeps with her horny roommate and they both get kicked out on the street naked and Fred Willard shows up to drive them home because he’s a leftist and thinks Nick’s friend is a refugee, and so in solidarity he takes off all his own clothes…

You get the idea. The plot is basically a rambling run-on sentence. Rather than developing any of the characters besides Nick and his pencil-mustached, cigarette-smoking alter ego, the screenplay just throws new ones into the mix. Meanwhile, our main protagonist begins to act in a manner that is increasingly not believable, evil alter-ego or not.

The only reason any of it works at all is the interesting diversion of watching Cera transform from wuss to defiant jerk and back again. But even that dichotomy is blurred, mostly because the premise, rather than spiraling out of control as it rightly should, instead gets buried in an onslaught of extraneous characters, regrettable sight gags and an overall tone of muddled mediocrity.

Three Stars out of Five (* * *)

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