Youth in Revolt
by Matt Fagerholm
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Here’s an example of an actor choosing the right role at the right time. Michael Cera is clearly one of the best actors of his generation, though his last few films have led people to believe that he either has a limited range, or he’s simply playing himself. Cera’s comic persona is as impenetrable as Woody Allen’s. He embodies vulnerable neurotic teenage angst with an authenticity unmatched by any actor in recent years. His best lines are delivered under the breath and at odd angles, striking the funny bone with impeccable deadpan timing. After Hollywood tried (and failed) to turn him into a commercial commodity (with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the embarrassing Year One), it’s great to see Cera in a role that proves he has a range beyond the comic persona he has mastered.
In fact, Youth in Revolt is all about the personas we utilize to fit into society, get attention, be assertive, and do everything that proves difficult to achieve in our own skin. The film is based on an excellent book series by C.D. Payne, which reads like a mix between “Charlie Brown” and Superbad. His teenage characters spoke with an eloquence beyond their years, yet their minds remained inexorably in adolescence. Like many protagonists of teen comedies, Payne’s hero is a boy (Nick Twisp) who simply wants to get laid. He develops an infatuation for a girl who’s looking for someone more confident, forceful, aggressive….in other words, bad. Super bad, to be exact. Thus, the boy’s personality undergoes a complete transformation in order to win the girl.
Director Miguel Artera (The Good Girl) mostly succeeds in staying true to the spirit of Payne’s text. His visualization of Nick Twisp’s alter-ego, mustached chain-smoker Francois, is ingenious in its simplicity (Cera does double duty as both characters, a la The Parent Trap). Artera is also unafraid of protracted awkward silences, which are a perfect fit for Cera, whose comedic rhythm and timing are so magnificent, it’s as if he can hear the audience in his head (he would make a great stage actor). This is easily his funniest film since Superbad, though it falls short of being Cera’s best film (the script by Gustin Nash stumbles into sentimentality at the end). Cera, however, has never been better. His character’s newfound assertiveness is guaranteed to provoke applause, and major laughs.
Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.
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