"Youth in Revolt," adapted from C.D. Payne's cult novels, brings to life the journal entries of teenager Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a virgin who falls desperately in love with Sheeni Saunders (played by captivating newcomer Portia Doubleday) when they cross paths on the way to their trailer park's bathroom. Soon, he's doing anything he can to be near her, including creating an alter ego named Francois Dillinger, a cigarette smoking, foul-mouthed, randy, mustachioed bad ass who makes him spark a raging inferno that burns down most of Berkeley, Calif. What some guys won't do to get laid, huh?
The film, Miguel Arteta's first directorial effort since "The Good Girl" in 2002, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009 to excited buzz. The question is, Why?
Sadly, Arteta has created an antiseptic, coming-of-age sex comedy without the titillation or humor to maintain his audience's attention. And Cera's signature brand of dry, high-strung, doe-eyed humor has worn tediously thin. No matter the role, it seems like Cera insists on doing the same thing he's done since he made George-Michael a household name. Perhaps his acting development arrested there. If you find yourself drifting out of this film, we recommend making it more interesting by imagining Cera's going head-to-head with Jesse Eisenberg in an awkward-off (Kristen Stewart could judge).
The Nick Twisp who exists on Payne's page is rude, vibrant, thoughtful, perverse and brimming with the agony of adolescence. Onscreen, despite acts of arson, cross-dressing, larceny and a Thanksgiving mushroom trip, it all seems spineless. Even Francois Dillinger, the character meant to embody sauvé savoir faire, feels showy, off-key and effortful. If it weren’t for Doubleday's well calculated and comely turn as the ultimate, unattainable dream girl, the film's shortcomings might be even less forgivable.
Adolescence is difficult, but "Youth in Revolt" makes it downright painful. It's too bad. With such good source material, a director who was seemingly a master of deadpan, and a cast boasting everyone from Steve Buscemi to Justin Long, we had higher hopes.