by Richard von Busack
ONCE, I GOT called a pseudointellectual by a person who pronounced it “sweedo.” Youth in Revolt is a date movie for all of us movie sweedoes: people who brandish copies of La Strada in the pathetic hope of cinema cred. In Youth in Revolt, a bullying high school kid sees Michael Cera’s Nick Twisp carrying a DVD of the Fellini classic. He snorts, “Do tampons come with that? For your vagina?” However else its chips fall, the writing here is very ticklish. Considering the movie’s retro qualities, about which more in a moment, it’s fair to mention Dobie Gillis and Lord Love a Duck as long-ago models of what director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) has in mind.
Young Nick is a virgin in the leafier part of Oakland, and he can’t stand it. His mom’s boyfriend of the day, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), has to leave town suddenly after one of his scams goes wrong. Jerry, 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 is too good to be real: Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), kept under lock and key by her parents, the kind of religious fanatics who use “Rock of Ages” for their doorbell music. Nick is determined to get next to her at all costs—even if it means creating the identity of “Francois Dillinger,” a kind of Big Lots version of the breezy heel Belmondo played in Breathless. Small-scale mayhem follows in Francois’ wake. This reign of minor terror backfires, since Mom’s latest boyfriend is an officer with the Oakland police.
Based on a self-published novel by C.D. Payne 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—ranging from Play-Doh to Ralph Bakshi–style 2-D XXX filmmaking—keep the tone light. The writing (the screenplay is by Gustin Nash) is so crisp that one ignores the incidents of dead air and the jokes that fail to build. We watch Cera, this whey-colored meerkat, pose as a woodsman: “Like John Muir said, ‘I enter the wilderness with nothing more than my journal and a childlike sense of wonder.” Dream girl Sheeni tries to bring things down to a more realistic plane: “Kiss me, you weenie.”
Youth in Revolt sports good turns by Steve Buscemi and Adhir Kalyan (for once, the Indian immigrant is a suave Ronald Colman rather than a 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 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 supposed to be set vaguely in the past, without any historical references—or is this is a vision of non-Internet cool that will define a generation? As Nick says, when asked whether the director of Tokyo Story was Ozu or Mizoguchi, “Who can say?”
Richard von Busack
YOUTH IN REVOLT (R; 90 min.), directed by Miguel Arteta, written by Gustin Nash, based on the novel by C.D. Payne, photographed by Chuy Chávez and starring Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday, opens Jan. 8.