Like most of America, I first became aware of Michael Cera with the all-too-short-lived comedy Arrested Development. Since his stint as the awkward George Michael Bluth, he has branched out to playing a slightly older but still awkward teenager looking to find his way in the adult world.
Youth in Revolt is a similar picture. Sweet and shy, Nick Twisp narrates the pitfalls of his first romance (ostensibly, passages from his "diary" , which is really the book that the film is based on). Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) is the young woman whose affection he pines for. Like a knight on a quest, he traverses rickety mobile homes, stoned older brothers (Justin Long), a set of trailer-trash parents AND a set of Bible thumping parents to win the love of his lady. And typical, predictable humor ensues.
The more interesting twist to the tale is the inclusion of "Francois", a devil-may-care French alter ego who Nick seems to have no control over. It is Francois who has the courage to say daring things and commit felonious acts. And Cera gets this part to a tee.
There is reference made to the Godard classic "Breathless" - Sheeni's posters on the wall, the mention of running away together like outlaws - but for film geeks it never pans out. There easily could have been a shot of Francois, leaning up against a lamppost with a newspaper, planning to rob a bank just before the accidental arson, to give those who get it a chance to exercise their now sleeping braincells.
And what ever happened to his friend who helped him sneak into the dorm? We don't see him again until the end credits. In fact, there was an audible "oh yeah..." from the crowd when he popped up.
Youth in Revolt is amusing. If you like this kind of film. Think Superbad with less weed, or fewer cops. And no Seth Rogen (thank goodness). Sheeni is wholly unlikable, to the point that you don't really want him to get the girl. There are admirable appearances by Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, and Zach Galifinakis.
Overall, it just feels unfinished. Or confused. It could have been a truly unique version of the genre. Instead, it is of the genre, with a minor gimmick.