Que Cera, Cera

'Youth in Revolt' an obscenely genial Frenchified tickler


Once, I got called a pseudo-intellectual by a person who pronounced it “sweedo-intellectual.” Youth in Revolt is a date movie for all of us cinematic sweedoes, people who brandish copies of La Strada in pathetic hope of cred. Here, a bullying high school kid sees Michael Cera’s Nicholas Twisp carrying a DVD of the Fellini. He snorts, “Do tampons come with that? For your vagina?”

However else its chips fall, Youth in Revolt‘s writing is very ticklish. Considering its retro qualities, Dobie Gillis and Lord Love a Duck are long-ago models of what director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) has in line here.

Fourteen-year-old Nick Twisp (Cera) is a virgin in the leafier part of Oakland, and can’t stand it. His mom’s boyfriend of the day (Zach Galifianakis) has to leave town suddenly after one of his scams goes wrong. He, Nick and the mom in question (Jean Smart, a cougar’s cougar) go vacationing at Restless Axles, a sad trailer park by a lake. There, Nick meets a girl who’s too good to be real: Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), kept under lock and key by her parents, the kind of religious fanatics who have “Rock of Ages” as their doorbell music. Nick determines to get next to her at all costs, even if it means creating the identity of “François Dillinger,” a kind of Big Lots version of the breezy heel Belmondo played in Breathless.

Small-scale mayhem follows in François’ wake. This reign of minor terror backfires, since Mom’s latest boyfriend is an officer with the Oakland PD.

Based on Sonoma County author C. D. Payne’s self-published novel that used to be plugged in The Nation‘s classified ads, Youth in Revolt invokes numerous local sites, from Ukiah to Santa Cruz (though for budget reasons, the movie was shot in Louisiana and Michigan). Animated interludes by Peter Sluszka keep the tone light, and the writing is so crisp, one ignores the incidents of dead air and the jokes that fail to build.

Youth in Revolt sports good turns by Steve Buscemi and Adhir Kalyan (for once, the Indian-immigrant-as-suave-Ronald-Colman rather than malapropism-spouting-Hindoo). Fred Willard has a fine ‘shroom-addled scene studying the nap of a shag carpet, and Justin Long plays a debonair but dangerous stoner. Despite a nod to computers at the film’s beginning, this is a film that carries out its scheme of rebel cool against a background of vinyl LPs, French New Wave references, pay telephones and a thinly veiled version of the book The Joy of Sex.

Is Youth in Revolt a movie that’s supposed to be set vaguely in the past, without any historical references, or is this a vision of non-internet cool that’ll define a generation? As Nick says, when asked whether the director of Tokyo Story was Ozu or Mizoguchi, “Who can say?”

Youth in Revolt is in wide release on Friday, Jan. 8.

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