Last week, we looked at Greg Mottolaâ€™s â€œAdventurelandâ€ (2009), a Pittsburgh movie best described as a romantic comedy with some real drama woven in- hence, a Romantic Dramedy. It was a solid winner, showing a great combination of quiet humor, nostalgia and a surprisingly moving love story. But no need for all the bland gushing again (here’s the link if you need to compare:Â http/www.manic-expression.com/apps/blog/entries/show/24963595-pittsburgh-against-the-world-a-clash-of-filmography)
This week, we look at the opposing entry as Ann Arbor, Michigan â€“ the first city chosen at random â€“ throws its hat into the ring, with a movie that takes advantage of Michiganâ€™s film incentive legislation passed in 2008. Itâ€™s definitely worthy competition.
Ann Arborâ€™s entry: â€œYouth in Revoltâ€ (2010)
Based on a novel of the same name by C. D. Payne, â€œYouth in Revoltâ€ (directed by Miguel Arteta), is a story about embracing oneâ€™s inner rebel and enjoying deliciously sinful pleasures, which also describes the appeal it offers to its audience. It begins with the familiar story of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a put-upon nerd and virgin in the style of most of Ceraâ€™s characters, whoâ€™s becoming increasingly desperate to explore the opposite sex. Both of his divorced parents (Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart) donâ€™t hesitate to put him on the backburner in favor of the slobs they are dating, and people at school donâ€™t give him the time of day. Then, menaced by sailors insisting they were ripped off by the motherâ€™s crooked boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis), the three of them leave town to stay near Nickâ€™s dad, where Nick meets the girl of his dreams, named Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). At this point, the story begins a steady dive into farcical insanity.
Sheeni, of course, is an absurd character meant to be the â€œperfect girlâ€ from a male-centric perspective; she wants Nick right away, she likes all the things that get him written off as a dork, and sheâ€™s so flirtatious, uncensored, and bold that she seems just one step away from offering him sex, even while telling him that she technically has a boyfriend (whom weâ€™re made to side against long before his much anticipated walk-on near the end of the movie). However, thanks to Doubledayâ€™s wonderful performance, Sheeni is also a lot of fun. She speaks in analytical terms that would feel cold if not for the way she delivers them, filling every word with with a certain erotic confidence. She exudes an energy thatâ€™s simultaneously warm and distant. Sheâ€™s altogether a great match for Nick, as played by Cera. In fact, sheâ€™s so likable that Nick canâ€™t accept risking his chance with her when it comes time to go home; the two of them agree to a plan in which Nick, going against every inclination of his being, will begin an onslaught of destructive and rebellious behavior until he gets thrown out of his momâ€™s house, allowing him to stay with his dad and be with Sheeni.
Only one aspect of the movie could possibly be better than Portia Doubledayâ€™s performance, and that is Michael Ceraâ€™s performance. But itâ€™s not the performance he gives to Nick, which has to settle for third best this time. Ceraâ€™s show-stealing performance is as the rebellious alter ego Nick invents to inspire his crimes, whom he calls FranÃ§ois Dillinger.
As a character, FranÃ§ois falls somewhere between a cold-blooded secret agent and the only gothic poet in the 21st century who likes wearing light colors. He wears a mustache, smokes cigarettes, and sports a slick version of Ceraâ€™s haircut. Heâ€™s smug, bold, and cruel, but he never seems to take pleasure in what he does. Each rebellious act is done with the air of FranÃ§ois collecting a debt, as though heâ€™s long-since been owed the leeway to do these things. Instead of Nick â€œbecomingâ€ FranÃ§ois, the two appear onscreen together, leaving us to interpret which of them is in control. Sheeniâ€™s only face-to-face meeting with FranÃ§ois is especially gleeful in this approach, with Nick almost too nervous not to interrupt his alter ego.
Most of the story from FranÃ§oisâ€™s appearance is a screwball tale of nonsense. It mainly gives us more contrived setups, such as Sheeniâ€™s parents (Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh) spontaneously sending her to boarding school, the introduction of another â€œperfect girlfriendâ€ of Sheeniâ€™s for the kindred spirit Nick picks up along the way, and such liberating crimes of self-empowerment as a multimillion dollar car wreck. None of it is believable, and some of it, such as the Thanksgiving dinner scene with the Saunders family, is vaguely disturbing. In all honesty, this story has much more black comedy than drama, and the drama it does attempt is not always convincing. The scene wherein Nick is forgiven, for example, lack any sort of believability.
Still, only a few of these problems can even be taken seriously; â€œYouth in Revoltâ€ is not about realistic scenarios or effective drama. Itâ€™s about its three central characters, counting FranÃ§ois, pitting themselves against the world, and each other, and in that it is an entertaining success. However, it ultimately falls short of â€œAdventureland,â€ which has a story more involving and rewarding, without such lazy setups, thatâ€™s just as funny to boot. I also, of the two, prefer Jesse Eisenbergâ€™s awkward, virginal character to Michael Ceraâ€™s, as Eisenberg is able to convey a more rounded individual who doesnâ€™t need FranÃ§ois Dillinger to stand up for himself. The only preferable aspect of â€œYouth in Revoltâ€ is Portia Doubledayâ€™s performance as the romantic interest over the less memorable Kristen Stewart, and even that is a surprisingly decent contest. Pittsburgh takes a victory in the first match. But be sure to check out both movies if you get the chance.