A comedic coming of age story, Youth in Revolt sustains itself firmly upon the shoulders of its lead, Michael Cera. His awkward energy combined with the hilarious hook of the film promises comedic gold. The problem is, outside of that the film has little to offer. From the lame jokes to the meandering story, Youth in Revolt simply has no idea what its overall purpose is, making the film more frustrated than its protagonist.
And Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) is one frustrated teen. His hormones are raging and he’s decided that it’s time to move past masturbating in bed and finally take that big step and lose his virginity. After his trailer trash family has to move to avoid paying a debt, he meets the girl of his dreams, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Her beauty is only surpassed by her love of arthouse films, which, as it happens, is one of Nick’s passions.
When the core conflict of your film is whether or not Michael Cera can get any, it’s hard to develop much of a story around it. To call the film meandering is to assume it actually stays in a reasonable area. The film is all over the place, hopping to different locations, introducing new characters that pop in and out of the plot willy-nilly. The film lacks any kind of cohesion or focal point. Granted, a great comedy doesn’t always need strict structure but it helps give the film borders.
Without these borders, the comedy is all over the place, ranging from some hilarious gags to a slew of crass sex jokes. For every smart joke that hits, there are three more that fall flat. Instead of focusing the story, the film throws in as many funny people as possible and hope people will laugh at them. Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta and Justin Long all make appearances throughout the film because in other films they were funny so maybe people will find them funny in this film.
It’s a shame that the film thinks it needs such comedic clutter because the only consistently funny element of the film is the alter ego Nick Twisp develops to win over Sheeni Saunders. She fantasizes about a French man she will one day marry called Francois, so Nick decides to become this fantasy. Francois becomes everything he is not, smart, suave and, most importantly, bad. The play between Nick and Francois is hilarious and plays on both the contrast of characters and the niche most people have shoved Cera into.
The problem with this persona is that it actually becomes personified as a force in the film, standing alongside Nick and interacting with his world. If he simply slipped in and out of the two personalities the effect would still work. By having Francois inexplicably appear every time Nick needs help, it becomes a writing copout instead of finding a clever way to bring the two characters together into the same body.
In fact, most of the writing seems to have taken the easy way out. Instead of trying to actually look at the material they had written down and trying to make the situations and conflicts funny, they simply throw a bunch of jokes out. The fact that Sheeny’s family is Christian or that she goes to a French prep school is in no way reflected in the actual comedy or writing at all. They simply serve as backdrops for the writers to sling joke after joke onto.
All these elements bring down what would have been a passable comedy to one of the lower-tier comedies of the year. While it has its share of laughs, there are just too many jokes that fail and too much thrown at the audience that doesn’t work. A more restrained, controlled approach to the material that focused more on the Nick/Francois character would have provided a strong comedy. Instead, it’s one of the more forgettable films of the year.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing