Monday, September 13, 2010

Youth, Revolted

It's about time Michael Cera did something different.

Let's recap; Ever since Arrested Development first aired way back in 2003, Michael Cera has arguably been the most successful of his fellow cast, which boasts impressive names such as Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, David Cross and Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman. The young Canadian actor has headlined many films and been praised highly for his roles in Superbad and Juno. And he was in one of this year's best films, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, even if I was somewhat disappointed by his performance.

But that's the problem with Cera. Perhaps because of his look (He's 22 but still looks like he's 12) he tends to play the same type of character, the mousy, quiet teen underdog. His characters are used to being pushed around, never rebelling or speaking up until he finds a cause or confidence to do so. It's true in every performance I've seen him in, as if the director doesn't really want him to change, since his work has done so well in the past. In Youth in Revolt, directed by Miguel Arteta, this at first seems to be the case. Cera plays social outcast Nick Twisp, a Sinatra-loving, classic movie-watching, dorky teenager living with his mother Estelle (Jean Smart), who has the worst taste in the men she has in her life and a dependence on the child supports she gets from Nick's dad (Steve Buschemi). When Jerry, the deadbeat Estelle is currently dating (Zach Galifinakis), manages to piss off some Navy sailors enough that they threaten Jerry's life, Nick finds himself traveling with Jerry and Estelle to a not-too-far trailer park, where he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the love of his life. The movie is about Nick overcoming the obstacles in his path to be with Sheeni, both emotional and physical, in a quest to win Sheeni's heart.

So for all intents and purposes, this seems to similar Cera vehicles, right? Well, yes and no. The big difference is that here Cera actually plays two distinct characters, as to be with Sheeni, Nick creates a fictional mustachioed persona named Francois Dillinger. Francois is meant to be the "bad boy" Nick thinks will win Sheeni's heart, and while Nick as a character is no different than Cera's other roles, Francois is a delightful change of pace from an actor I wasn't sure had anything else in the bag. Nick's bad side is hilariously unsubtle, saying the things Nick wishes he could but can't bring himself to speak out loud. It's a brand new side of Cera and it's easily the movie's greatest triumph.

The other acting in the film is quite good, though nowhere near as impressive as Cera. Doubleday is the best of the rest, playing the unique and interesting love interest with such talent and precision that it's easy to forget that she's a relative newcomer onto the scene. The rest of the roles, however, are largely uninteresting. While all the actors in the roles are brilliantly talented actors and do their best within the roles, but the roles themselves are largely uninteresting, culled of any deeper feelings than what exists on the surface. Smart, Galifinakis, Buschemi, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh all deserve kudos for the sheer talent they have to put forward to try and make their roles something more than bland, but overall this is Cera and Doubleday's movie. There are maybe two exceptions, with "If Chins Could Kill" Jonathan Bradford Wright playing Sheeni's ex-boyfriend who wants to get her back, and Fred Willard as the type of character Fred Willard has been playing since pretty much forever. It's the same, but still performed with a playfulness that makes it fun to watch. Also, while not a large or very important role, I bring to your attention Rooney Mara, who plays a roommate of Sheeni's at school, who was recently cast to play the now-legendary literary character Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming American remake of the Stieg Larsson Millennium Series of books and movies. This role is too small to judge whether she's right for that possibly career-making role, but at least I can say "I saw her when..."

Though the movie is mostly live-action, there are occasional scenes and sequences, mostly traveling ones, where animation is used, most notably claymation in the opening credits. These are interesting for a bit but thankfully don't exist as a large percentage of the film. They're a distraction, sometimes from how slow the pace of the film has become, or as a device to draw two points of reference closer together than they might have been in a different film. Still, the style undeniably marks Youth in Revolt as an indie film, and this probably would not have worked with a more prominent film.

The film has an interesting and entertaining soundtrack, with such varied artists as folk rockers the Fruit Bats, indie rockers Beulah, and hip hop artist FatLip. The soundtrack even features 40's-era pop standards vocalist Jo Stafford for one of the animated sequences. The music, selected and compiled by John Swihart, fits the film perfectly, composing a love story that flows quite impressively from beginning to end.

Youth in Revolt is a film that has it's share of problems. While the lead are engaging, most of the periphery characters are largely uninteresting and some excessively inconsequential. The film is a little slow to start, but picks up the pace the more you watch, and so charming by the end that you wish it had gone on a little bit longer. In short, it's an under-the-radar upstart, better than the sum of it's parts. Classy, artistic, funny, and featuring the best and most unique performance from star Michael Cera I've seen in a long time, Youth in Revolt may not be the best Cera film this year, but if you missed this one, I definitely recommend you do yourself a favor and make a little time for my new #9 film.

No comments: