Michael Cera plays a very Michael Cera kind of fellow in Youth in Revolt. The go-to guy for funny-nerdy-cute hoodie roles after his memorable work in Superbad, Juno, and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Cera stars as Nick Twisp, a virginal but sexually inflamed, maturely sardonic but immaturely squid-bodied teen with a crush on a girl named Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Sheeni is a cool customer whose boyfriend is a smug, poetry-writing Mr. Perfect in a country-club sweater (Jonathan B. Wright) and whose own fantasies of sexual sophistication involve marrying a Frenchman. So to win Sheeni's love (and to impress her with his willingness to be bad, the way she claims to like her men), Nick adopts the alter ego of a Gallic troublemaker, François Dillinger. It's an understatement to call François, with his tight Euro pants and dirty mustache, a bad influence on the otherwise mild-mannered suburban American kid whose divorced, self-involved parents have no time for their son. Let's just say that at one point François inspires Nick to torch half of Oakland. With a nod to The Parent Trap, Cera plays both Nice Nick and Felonious François.
But as with plans to torch half of Oakland, timing is everything. And Youth in Revolt is late arriving not just at the tail end of the star's sell-by date for this particular kind of character, but more importantly at the tail end of the intended audience's attention span for an inconsequential Sundance-y tale of sexual coming-of-age.
Directed by the vivacious filmmaker Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck), the movie misses the dark hilarity and herky-jerky energy of C.D. Payne's 1993 young-adult novel on which it's based; there's too little color amid all the mayhem. At the same time, the outrageously explicit yet innocent sex talk stuck in the mouths of teen boys by screenwriter Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett) sounds unnatural, even in an age of worldly-wise teen dialogue. There is also entirely too much dysfunctional-family whimsy and reliance on costume as a stand-in for character: François wears snug French pants; Nick's slatternly mom (Jean Smart) dons cleavage-baring blouses.
Truth is, there's also too much Michael Cera. Which isn't the star's fault. I blame the movie's bad timing, and its delayed release. When Youth in Revolt was shot, the uniquely funny young actor was barely out of his teens. This June, he will be 22. Hoodie-dom precedes him. It also obliterates any independent understanding of Twisp. In contrast, Doubleday, an intriguing newcomer who simultaneously projects innocence and allure, has an easier time claiming her turf as Sheeni.
Payne's novel Youth in Revolt established Nick Twisp as one of literature's more vivid teen rebels. It also captured a vanished early-'90s sensibility (and immortalized the era's computer components). Nick's world still reads fresh on the page. Not so Arteta's Youth in Revolt. Like, dudes, where's the revolution? C+