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Youth In Revolt

I’m reminded of the last year or two of my trick or treating career. This was at some point during my junior high years, let’s say seventh or eighth grade. I started getting variations on “my, aren’t you a BIG trick or treater?” The implication, of course, being that it was time to make way for smaller, younger and probably cuter kids. I saw the proverbial writing on the wall and started acquiring my candy the hard way. Do you hear that bell, Michael Cera? It tolls for thee.

Actually, I like Cera. I thought he was often hilarious and touching in Superbad and Juno, smart and sympathetic in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But the window on his doe-eyed, sensitive youth franchise is closing, and Youth and Revolt might just have slammed it shut.

The problem, however, goes way beyond our meek friend, who acquits himself well enough in the double role (although the Francois Dillinger alter ego comes along late enough in the game and is inserted so sporadically as to reveal itself as nothing more than the unimaginative plot device it is). Among other outrages this flimsy, discursive piece of cinematic effluent offers up: Fred Williard shirtless; yet another soundtrack cheaply thick with evocative indie rock and French pop; a facile evocation of Breathless and Jean Paul Belmondo; one of the great American character actors, M. Emmet Walsh, reduced to spreading mashed potatoes all over his face in a scene in which he’s supposed to be tripping on mushrooms (and what, by the way, are all 74 years of Walsh doing playing the father of a teenager?; he looks old enough to be the father of Mary Kay Place, who plays his wife); three separate instances, lest we forget we’re watching something really charming, in which the film lapses into some sort of animation; Fred Williard shirtless.

The problem is really the material. I haven’t read the C.D. Payne book(s) on which this mess is based, but I have had the displeasure of seeing Youth in Revolt. And this level of self-indulgence should begin to be illegal. How many more revisionist high school stories need to be written or filmed in which a sensitive, bookish lad really gets the girl after all? Even worse, the teenage beauty queens after which the heroes of these stories lust are invested with a level of sophistication which vies with the excessive voluptuousness of the ass-kicking heroines of masturbatory comics and video games in its insulting unreality. In Youth in Revolt, Sheeni, the inamorata of young Nick Twisp, fancies all things French, loves Breathless and Belmondo, names an adopted dog Albert (after poor Camus) and corrects Nick when he makes the mistake of expressing his admiration of Tokyo Story by the great Mizoguchi, saying something like “Wasn’t that Ozu?” Are you kidding me? It’s an abusurd and actually mildly amusing exchange, but it also approaches late-career Woody Allen for its detachment from reality.

The film ends with the Cera character being hauled off to juvy for one of the major crimes instigated by the Dillinger persona. The winsome Sheeni promises to wait for him. Nick realizes that maybe he didn’t need the alter ego after all, the real him is good enough. Ugh. Come back Wes Anderson, all is forgiven.



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