"Youth in Revolt" is, in so many ways, a typical January release. Movies in the first month of the year are always like leftover holiday candy - a bit stale, but hey, this is the only food we have left in the house, so why not?
Most of this movie was filmed back in the summer of 2008, and it has been "on the shelf" ever since - it's finished but the studio delays its release. Movies usually get lost in this purgatory because either the studio doesn't know how to market it or they don't think it's strong enough for a theatrical release.
So which is the case for "Youth in Revolt"? A bit of both.
"Youth in Revolt" is an odd little film. Teenage virgin and 98-pound weakling Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) goes on summer vacation with his train wreck of a mother (Jean Smart, playing a white trash tramp again) and her crude, disgusting boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis). They stay in a dirty trailer, small enough for Nick to hear mother and boyfriend having sex. Say it with me: Ew!
The only silver lining to this disastrous summer comes in the form of Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a beautiful blonde who likes French movies and music. The only thing she likes more, in fact, is rebelling against her Christian fundamentalist parents (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place).
Nick of course becomes infatuated with Sheeni, who likes him, too, just "not in that way." Nick remains stuck in friend land until he writes some poetry and reaches first base.
Nick quickly falls hopelessly in love with Sheeni, but she is more fickle. Does she love Nick or should she stay with her big-man-on-campus beau back home? We've seen all of this many, many times. But here's where it gets weird.
When Sheeni tells Nick she wants someone more adventurous and rebellious, Nick creates an alter ego named Francois Dillinger who possesses all the traits Sheeni wants: French name, nihilistic attitude and a love of trouble.
Francois allows Nick to raise hell in order to show Sheeni he is the dangerous boy she dreams of. And boy does Nick raise it!
He crashes a trailer camper and convertible Lincoln into a coffee shop in Berkeley. He gets kicked out of his mother's house. He and a friend sneak into her room at the exclusive boarding school to which her parents send her. And that's just the start.
So we have a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wills himself into schizophrenia, boy destroys his own life in a rather pathetic attempt to win girl back ...
I'm not sure I'd know how to market this movie, either.
But I'm also unsure whether "Youth in Revolt" should be released to theaters at all. It's as uneven as a movie can be. For each hilarious scene — and there are a handful - there is another that falls completely flat.
Cera attempts to branch out here by playing (part of the time) a ballsy cad. He does OK, but he plays the loveable, witty loser so much better.
The dialogue often seems ripped out of a Wes Anderson movie. It's deadpanned, overstated and chock full of obscure vocabulary. For the most part, though, the quality of dialogue doesn't measure up to Anderson's work.
Director Miguel Arteta's previous work ("The Good Girl," "Chuck and Buck") is a good indication of the style of "Youth in Revolt." Arteta isn't afraid to let the comedy get very, very dark, and his characters tend to be a bit hard to like.
You have to be a big fan of Cera or indie-style comedies in general to really enjoy this one. All others will likely leave a bit unsatisfied, especially when there are several holdovers from 2009 to choose from. This one will taste a whole lot better at rental prices.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.