'Youth in Revolt' a snippet of novel, but still sporadically entertaining tale of teen love and high school high jinks
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Sometimes putting a little distance between a book and the movie is a good thing.
C.D. Payne's 500-page "Youth in Revolt" is so dense and packed with characters, adventures and extended escapades that the big-screen adaptation can seem wan by comparison.
I first saw "Youth" in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, when the novel was much in my head, but I caught it for a second time this week and enjoyed it more since I wasn't making a mental checklist of missing people or twists.
Michael Cera plays a lovesick teen with the unfortunate name of Nick Twisp who resides in Oakland, Calif., with his divorced mother Estelle (Jean Smart) and her boyfriend of the moment. His father (Steve Buscemi) lives with his 25-year-old girlfriend (Ari Graynor), which leaves Nick out in the virginal cold.
2 1/2 stars = Average
- Starring: Michael Cera, Jean Smart, Portia Doubleday.
- Rating: R for sexual content, language and drug use.
- Web site: www.YouthInRevolt-TheMovie.com
But when Nick goes on vacation to the Restless Axles Trailer Park, he meets a bewitching, sophisticated girl named Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) and is smitten.
When Sheeni calls their relationship a summer fling, Nick conspires for it to be something more. Taking Sheeni's advice that he be "bad, very, very bad," he invents an alter ego named Francois, played by Cera with a side-parted hairstyle, mustache, white pants, blue shirt, burning cigarette and air of rebellion and insouciance.
"Youth in Revolt" tracks Nick and his friends through adventures involving girls, sex, magic mushrooms and eluding parents and police.
The cast also includes Zach Galifianakis and Ray Liotta as two of the men in Estelle's life; a hilarious Fred Willard as a helpful neighbor; Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh as Sheeni's parents; Justin Long as Sheeni's brother; and Adhir Kalyan and Erik Knudsen as friends of Nick.
Miguel Arteta, whose work has gotten progressively better from "Star Maps" to "Chuck & Buck" and then "The Good Girl," directs a screenplay by Gustin Nash.
Cera gets to spread his wings as Francois, even as he plays the awkward teen ... again. Now 21, he should leave the high school students behind, although he is entirely convincing as one.
Allowing Francois to shoulder the blame for the worst behavior lets the audience continue to root for Nick, even if it makes for weird moments as when Francois is driving, and Nick is in the passenger seat.
The laughs come sporadically and the movie is clearly aimed at teens but is rated R for sexual content, language and drug use. A little expert pruning and loss of some of the more juvenile humor and it likely could have slipped under the PG-13 wire and found its intended audience.
In the end, though, the movie seems like a CliffsNotes version of Payne's novel but with an appealing, if hapless, hero.
First Published January 8, 2010 12:00 am