It’s a terrible feeling, when you realize the once-enjoyable movie you’re watching is starting to stink. It’s like being on a nice, smooth flight that gets hit by turbulence. Take this film, which soars off the runway like a near-classic, takes a huge nose dive but then straightens out for a bumpy landing.
Michael Cera stars as Nick Twisp, a young nerd who falls hard for Sheeni, the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday). She won’t give him the time of day unless he becomes a bad boy criminal. Considering that his non-existent social life consists of enduring his mother’s revolving-door boyfriends, he gives in and creates a second personality—a mustachioed, dead-eyed rogue named “Francois.”
The first 20 minutes are great—then Cera turns into Francois. To play the role, Cera wears creepy contact lenses, sports a thin mustache and perpetually smokes a cigarette, but none of it helps: the character is a bad idea and an annoyance.
The concept of having one actor play the two competing roles may have seemed promising, but the problem is that Cera’s appeal is based entirely on his sweetly deadpan comic persona (I met him three years ago at a Superbad screening and can attest that he’s the real article—as funny, soft-spoken and smart as he appears in his movies). Forcing an actor to go outside his comfort zone is one thing; forcing him to abandon the whole reason for his success is another.
There are still some big laughs, and I admired the film’s unpredictability, including the use of animation. Ray Liotta is wasted and miscast (comedy just isn’t his thing), but Doubleday is wonderful, as is Fred Willard, who has one of the movie’s best sight gags and, once again, demonstrates how he can punch up any movie by just appearing in a handful of scenes. Steve Buscemi and Justin Long aren’t on screen enough to make lasting impressions, though Zack Galifianakis is hilarious as arguably the worst of Nick’s near-stepdads.
The opening scene sets a nicely self deprecating tone for the protagonist, but that gets lost by the third act, which seems to be almost celebrating the mayhem Nick and “Francois” inflict. Teen individualism should be celebrated, no doubt, but blowing up a store and destroying your parent’s cars? The story was clearly, and weirdly, influenced by Fight Club, which mocks homegrown terrorism and self-aggrandizing criminals. That movie knew it was a cautionary tale as well as wicked satire; I’m not so sure about Youth in Revolt.
Cera is an enjoyable-if-unusual leading man. Here’s hoping in his next film, he’ll have the confidence to play the one role he’s really good at: himself. MauiTime, Barry Wurst II