' ' Cinema Romantico: Youth In Revolt

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Youth In Revolt

If you watch this (double dose of) Michael Cera-starring vehicle it would be best to detatch yourself from reality, much like the heroes and heroines of all those French New Wave crime pics used to. Those characters, as the esteemed Roger Ebert has noted, were all "narcissistic...obsessed with themselves and oblivious to larger society." Therein lies Cera's Nick Twisp, originally of the novel by C.D. Payne and now the center of Miguel Arteta's film, not to mention his counterpart, and obligatory love of his life, Portia Doubleday's Sheeni Saunders.

Nick is a sixteen year old "aspiring" novelist and virgin with few friends, an affinity for foreign cinema ("Wasn't 'Tokyo Story' directed by Ozu?" "Who's to say really?") and Sinatra. He lives in Berkeley, California with his mother (Jean Smart), whose taste in men is exceedingly bad, and his father (Steve Buscemi) is a sad-sack shacked up with a busty young blonde. When his mother's current boorish boyfriend's (Zach Galifianakis) used car deal with a few sailors goes bad the trio lights out of town and up north to a trailer park masquerading as a vacation destination. In no time at all he has glimpsed Sheeni and fallen head over heels.

Sheeni is just your typical teenage femme fatale. She speaks French, dreams of attending an all French prep school, living in Paris, and, like Tina Fey's Liz Lemon and Astronaut Mike Dexter, meeting her dream man, Francois. The problem? Well, there's a few of 'em. Sheeni has a preppy, snobby boyfriend, mortally religious parents and, of course, there will come the time when Nick has to return to far away Berkeley, leaving Sheeni behind.

The main characters of Godard's "Breathless" and "Band Of Outsiders" were not merely influenced with the hard boiled gangsters of the pulp novels and B-movies they'd seen, they wanted to be them. They wanted to be them so bad they acted like them in what passed for the movie's version of real life. Nick Twisp wants to be one so much while simulatenously desiring Sheeni to such a degree he invents an alternate persona - Francois Dillinger - in order to be all that which he cannot. And like Michel, the hero of "Breathles", Francois is never without a cigarette. He gently nudges, and sometimes violently shoves, the timid Nick into the nooks and crannies of life where he never would previously go. Like, you know, scheming to get his dad a job up north in the town where Sheeni lives and then burning down the town of Berkeley so that his mom's latest boorish boyfriend, a cop (Ray Liotta), can cover for him and suggest he be sent away to hide out with his dad. Thus, he and Sheeni are re-united. Well, briefly. Things cannot be so easy, of course.

Your attitude toward "Youth In Revolt" will likely hinge a great deal on your affection for Michael Cera. Did you not like him in the first place? Do you think he's becoming over-exposed? Is his almost unfathomable tentativness grating on you? Luckily, I've always liked him and I still like him. His facial expressions suggesting a most hesitant deer caught in the most blinding of headlights and understated line readings like "My sweet angel of the lavatory" slay me.

The film isn't perfect and many of the supporting characters (like Fred Willard's neighbor) possess a single trait solely so that trait can be employed at a crucial juncture later in the movie. However, an argument could me made that if, in fact, Nick Twisp is writing this story himself, and he may very well be, that his self-obsessed attitude would ignore the depth of others to focus on himself.

He also provides himself an ending that is decidedly different from the typical French New Wave tragedy. I think that was the right decision. After all, this is American New Wave. Or American New Fangled New Wave. Or Revisionist American Teenybopper Wave. Or something.

No comments: