Last week, we looked at Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland” (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: 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 – the first city chosen at random – throws its hat into the ring, with a movie that takes advantage of Michigan’s film incentive legislation passed in 2008. It’s definitely worthy competition.

 

Ann Arbor’s entry: “Youth in Revolt” (2010)

 

Based on a novel of the same name by C. D. Payne, “Youth in Revolt” (directed by Miguel Arteta), is a story about embracing one’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 Cera’s characters, who’s becoming increasingly desperate to explore the opposite sex. Both of his divorced parents (Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart) don’t hesitate to put him on the backburner in favor of the slobs they are dating, and people at school don’t give him the time of day. Then, menaced by sailors insisting they were ripped off by the mother’s crooked boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis), the three of them leave town to stay near Nick’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 “perfect girl” from a male-centric perspective; she wants Nick right away, she likes all the things that get him written off as a dork, and she’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 we’re made to side against long before his much anticipated walk-on near the end of the movie). However, thanks to Doubleday’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 that’s simultaneously warm and distant. She’s altogether a great match for Nick, as played by Cera. In fact, she’s so likable that Nick can’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 mom’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 Doubleday’s performance, and that is Michael Cera’s performance. But it’s not the performance he gives to Nick, which has to settle for third best this time. Cera’s show-stealing performance is as the rebellious alter ego Nick invents to inspire his crimes, whom he calls François Dillinger.

 

As a character, François 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 Cera’s haircut. He’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 François collecting a debt, as though he’s long-since been owed the leeway to do these things. Instead of Nick “becoming” François, the two appear onscreen together, leaving us to interpret which of them is in control. Sheeni’s only face-to-face meeting with François is especially gleeful in this approach, with Nick almost too nervous not to interrupt his alter ego.

 

Most of the story from François’s appearance is a screwball tale of nonsense. It mainly gives us more contrived setups, such as Sheeni’s parents (Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh) spontaneously sending her to boarding school, the introduction of another “perfect girlfriend” of Sheeni’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; “Youth in Revolt” is not about realistic scenarios or effective drama. It’s about its three central characters, counting François, pitting themselves against the world, and each other, and in that it is an entertaining success. However, it ultimately falls short of “Adventureland,” which has a story more involving and rewarding, without such lazy setups, that’s just as funny to boot. I also, of the two, prefer Jesse Eisenberg’s awkward, virginal character to Michael Cera’s, as Eisenberg is able to convey a more rounded individual who doesn’t need François Dillinger to stand up for himself. The only preferable aspect of “Youth in Revolt” is Portia Doubleday’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.

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