(ntrdinc) from CLOVIS, CA
Reviewed on 3/24/2015...
This is by far, among my top ten favorite comedy movies of all time.
Clever script writing... I highly recommend this movie.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 12/2/2010...
Unlikeable, immoral alter-ego character nudges potential comedy in the wrong direction
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really wanted to like 'Youth in Revolt' since it began with a likable protagonist, Nick Twisp (in another typical Michael Cera 'insecure with woman' role) and his love interest, Sheeni Saunders (played by attractive newcomer, Portia Doubleday). Also in the mix is a quirky supporting cast including such luminaries as Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Ray Liotta and Justin Long.
One is immediately drawn to Nick and Sheeni with their intellectual discussions focusing particularly on film (Nick loves art house Japanese director Ozu and Sheeni is a committed Francophile, with a particular infatuation for the famed French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo). You would never guess that Nick and Sheeni are so cerebral and liberal minded, considering the background of their parents. Nick's mother Estelle has taken up with a low-life boyfriend, Jerry (Galifianakis) who has just sold a lemon of a car to three sailors who want their money back. Jerry and Estelle with Nick in tow, take off for Clearlake (California) where they spend the week in a beat up trailer. Later Jerry has a heart attack and dies and Estelle takes up with an obnoxious Oakland police officer. Meanwhile, Sheeni's parents, who are more middle class, also happen to be fanatical fundamentalist Christians and won't let Sheeni keep 'Albert', a mangy mutt that Nick has purchased for Sheeni.
All of the offbeat banter and characters proves pretty engaging for the first thirty minutes of the film until Nick invents an alter-ego character, Francois Dillinger to help him win Sheeni's heart (he also must contend with Sheeni's preppie boyfriend, Trent Preston, who seeks to undermine Nick at every turn). The alter-ego assisting an insecure male in an attempt to woo a seemingly unobtainable love interest calls to mind the Woody Allen classic,"Play It Again Sam". You'll recall that the 70s comedy also features a lovable loser who must call upon an iconic film figure to help transform himself into a character who is decidedly confident with women. Play It Again Sam works because the alter-ego is Humphrey Bogart, who not only represents the apotheosis of male confidence with women but also the 'bad boy' who refuses to dispense with his ethical principles despite all the temptations (in Play It Again Sam, Bogart plays Rick, the good guy cafe owner from Casablanca, who saves the girl and defeats the Nazis).
Youth in Revolt, on the other hand, unfortunately gets it all wrong. Dillinger, with his pencil thin moustache, is also supposed to be a 'bad boy', attractive to women. But unlike Bogie, he's ethically challenged. He ends up advising Nick to "blow up half of Berkeley". Nick listens to his wilder, demented half and ends up crashing Jerry's Lincoln into a restaurant, causing a fire. Nick's now a wanted man (or rather a juvenile delinquent wanted by the police). Nick does more sorry things.
After going to the exclusive French private girl's boarding school where Sheeni has been exiled by her parents, Nick meets Bernice Lynch, Sheeni's next door neighbor at school, and tells her that Trent has been badmouthing her. In order to get back at Trent, he convinces Lynch to place sedatives in Sheeni's drinks. Sheeni ends up getting expelled after constantly falling asleep in class.
Since Dillinger is so unlikeable and Nick constantly takes his advice, we lose complete respect for the protagonist. Unlike Woody Allen, who through Bogart's advice becomes self-actualized, Nick becomes completely unhinged. At the end of the film, Nick attempts to stage his own death by pretending to be in a car that falls off a cliff. The bungled stunt is seen for what it is in front of a few local police officers who observe Nick fleeing in his underpants. What kind of moral are we supposed to take away from this film? That committing crimes are advisable, leading to success with women? In the end, even Sheeni has lost her sheen. She falls for the pathetic Nick and appears to acquiesce in his misbehavior. It's Sheeni who reassures him that he'll only do three months in the slammer.
Nick has more than one sidekick in 'Youth in Revolt' and they're all underdeveloped. His best friend Lefty has little screen time and by watching the DVD extras you can see that the rest of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Better is the second sidekick, Vijay, an Indian from South Africa played by the talented Adhir Kalyan who I predict we will see more of in the years to come. Vijay has a few amusing bits when he accompanies Nick in his foray to Sheeni's boarding school. He's also seen in an animated sequence while he drives with Nick in his grandmother's car. Finally there's Paul, Sheeni's brother, who Nick bonds with for a short time over a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms.
While the quirky characters which I alluded to before are initially engaging, they are all so underdeveloped that by the time the film concludes, we care little about them. Buscemi is particularly left high and dry in his one-note depiction of a constantly angry parent who finds himself unable to connect and bond with his alienated son.- Youth in Revolt does have some rather neat 'claymation' animated sequences, highlighted during the opening and closing credits. Coupled with an effective 'folky' soundtrack as well as clever editing, 'Youth' comes across better for its look rather than its content.
I don't know how the films' backers could have allowed the scenarists here to so easily undermine the solid character of the films' protagonists. This could have been a simple story about an insecure, geeky kid who gains confidence with women by inventing and then following the lead of his own 'bad boy' creation—a bad boy however, that still has some heart and soul. Unfortunately, the alter ego has no class and it makes little sense that the 'good kid' would choose to go down such a dark path.
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