If the movies have taught us anything about true love it's that the path to it never runs smoothly. Quite whether anyone has been on as arduous a journey in the name of love as Michael Cera's character Nick Twisp in Youth In Revolt is unlikely.
He's a socially awkward yet savvy geek when we meet him, seeking refuge from his disconnected life in the soothing sounds of Sinatra. But after a soulful brief encounter on a holiday with the sexy, super intelligent and more than a bit mischievous Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), he's a changed man. In order to allow romance to blossom he's got to rebel with a cause, but does this most mild-mannered of teens have the spirit for anarchy in the name of love?
With his pale complexion, wispy frame and oddly high-pitched voice, Michael Cera seems more like the man on the street than a movie star. In yet another charmingly offbeat indie comedy, he proves that is exactly why he is a refreshing presence in a lead role.
In Cera's capable hands, Twisp is an everyman who eases the pain of teen angst and suburban dysfunction with a droll sense of humour; you can't help but warm to such a figure. You hope he has a chance to strike up the Before Sunrise/Sunset style organic romance with the girl of his dreams he yearns for; you suspect he could be in for heartbreak. He doesn't seem like the guy who gets the girl, but then again, appearances can be deceptive, after all, this is the guy who impregnated Ellen Page in Juno
The spell of love can do strange things to a man; evidence for the intoxicating affects of Cupid's arrow is provided by the near pathological pursuit of romance Twisp commits to in Youth In Revolt. Watching such a seemingly well adjusted and sensible teen transform into his bad boy alter-ego, Francois Dillinger, makes director Miguel Arteta's film completely unpredictable and also riotously hilarious; even Johnny Knoxville would cringe with embarrassment at some of the stunts this guy tries in order to be with the girl of his affections. Cera's innocent look makes him appear incapable of such outrageous antics. Hence the irony of watching a meek man turn into a menace to society - it's a film full of surprises.
Essentially the film is a reinvention of that well worn old plot chestnut of a teen determined to pop his cherry. It never feels as raucous as the coming of age teen comedies that have gone before, as Arteta channels some art-house influences into the film, balancing out the rambunctious spirit with an element of sophistication. You could say it is American Pie restyled like a Fellini movie - it's peppered with influences from French new wave cinema.
The influence of Woody Allen is imprinted in the comedy too. People will inevitably compare just what happens to Twisp with what goes on in Fight Club; a more accurate comparison would be Woody Allen's Play It Again Sam, in which Allen's neurotic nerd imagines seeking advice on women from his suave alter-ego Humphrey Bogart.
It's nothing new then, but it is a consistently amusing screenplay, blending some laugh-out-loud sight gags with a punchy but dry script that delivers lyrical dialogue to savour. Dillinger's delirious delinquency never fails to amuse. To the outside world, he's an ASBO waiting to happen but we the viewer know there is pure intention behind the fallacy of his actions. Cera assures there is plenty of heart behind the humour. His story does say a great deal about how when you lose your heart, you can lose your head.
Newcomer Portia Doubleday is as impressive as Cera; she's alluring and intelligent, giving a memorable performance. There's a host of great character actors in support, including Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Emmet Walsh and Fred Willard. All of them provide flashes of amusement - which is no small achievement, considering just how underwritten each of their characters are.
No quirky indie comedy is complete without a section of experimental animation. Arteta includes not one but three inspired animated sequences that are really quite inventive.
This is a colourful, sardonic, and lively alternative comedy that consistently amuses; Cera is not your archetypal leading man and his natural presence, complete with sharp wit, makes Youth In Revolt a winsome treat.