"Punk" and "rebel" don't belong in the same sentence with "Michael Cera." But somehow, they connect in the few-holds-barred teen comedy Youth in Revolt.
Youth serves up our favorite sweet pushover (Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) as Nick Twisp, virginal twerp, in love/lust with brazen, confident Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). And we see Nick's alter ego, "François," a mustachioed hoodlum and hipster, the sort of guy who actually has a shot with a girl like Sheeni.
Because literate and witty boys like Nick don't get the girl. Not usually, anyway. He keeps a journal. He soft-sells his insults to his cougar-mom (Jean Smart) and whoever her latest beau is (Zach Galifaniakis, Ray Liotta). Nick knows that Oakland, Calif., is "a city filled with women who have zero interest in me." What he might not know is that his every gesture and high-voiced utterance screams "sissy."
But a vacation in a rural trailer park, meeting the fetching Sheeni, could change that.
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"What's your name?"
"Dillinger," he lies.
She's the daughter of "religious fanatic," but sexy and savvy enough to recognize her powers over boys, with a cruel willingness to use those powers on Nick. What she talks him into doing is why he needs a François in his psyche — "bold, contemptuous of authority, irresistible to women," who stands up to his parents, sets fires, consumes psychedelic mushrooms and makes trouble.
Equal parts inspired and irresponsible, the new film from Miguel Arteta (director of the cult hit Chuck and Buck) turns C.D. Payne's novel (script by Gustin Nash) into a hit-or-miss homage to that French classic of outlaw love, Breathless. Arteta captures Sheeni's inscrutable smile and Nick's clumsy obsession, and the daft eccentrics (Fred Willard, Justin Long) whose path Nick crosses.
Yes, it's still a movie about another "I am going to die a virgin" teen. But Youth in Revolt is also about French books, French singers and classic French films, about being the smart boy who wants to win the heart of "the mother of my future gifted children" but not smart enough to not make every mistake doing it.