‘Youth in Revolt’: Michael Cera stretches his diffident teen wings

  • Thu Jan 7th, 2010 6:45pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

Michael Cera hasn’t missed a beat: From coming to notice as the diffident son on the TV show “Arrested Development,” he’s moved into movies — notably “Superbad” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” — and kept his offhand comedic style intact. (We’ll ignore “Year One” for the moment.)

His new one, “Youth in Revolt,” is another good move. The movie’s got some edge to it, and Cera — while on the one hand playing a slight variation on his usual role — gets to go a little out there, too.

The film is based on writings by C.D. Payne, but just as importantly, it’s directed by Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck &Buck”), a filmmaker with a truly odd, funny-serious touch. The result is both engaging and weird.

Cera plays a virginal lad named Nick Twisp, who lives with his blowsy mother (Jean Smart) and her latest ill-advised boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis). Nick is smarter than the people around him — which might not be saying much, but it’s all he’s got.

When his mother drags him along to a trailer park for a summer vacation, he meets the girl of his dreams: Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), who is all the dreamier because she shares his fixation with French culture.

She’s got a jerky boyfriend, her parents are none too impressed with Nick, and her freaky brother (Justin Long) might be Nick’s ally, or possibly not. But Nick has a goal: Get kicked out of his mother’s house so he can stay with his father (Steve Buscemi), who conveniently lives near Sheeni’s family.

The film’s funniest concept is that Nick calls upon his inner bad boy to achieve his goals. This bizarro-world Nick, a roguish Frenchman with a pencil mustache and mirrored sunglasses whose name is Francois Dillinger, is just bad enough to get him (them?) in serious trouble.

To Arteta’s credit, he doesn’t show bad behavior as cute or whimsical; “Youth in Revolt” moves into an interestingly dark zone that could leave Michael Cera’s teenybopper fans uncomfortable. (Note the R rating.)

But Cera is nimble at navigating both of his characters’ shifts from goofy to bittersweet to vaguely sinister, and newcomer Doubleday is his equal.

Arteta manages to get good actors for his films, and this one’s no exception: The cast includes an oddly affecting Fred Willard and a typically aggressive Ray Liotta, along with the other good people.

It’s a curious movie, and it doesn’t entirely work. But it’s definitely not just the same old thing.

“Youth in Revolt” (three stars)

Michael Cera plays another diffident teen, but this time the tone shifts from funny to bittersweet to vaguely sinister, which director Miguel Arteta manages pretty well. Cera summons up his inner bad boy to get the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday); the cast is full of really good comedy people.

Rated: R for subject matter, language

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall