In Theaters: Youth in Revolt

Movieline Score: 7

Adapted from C.D. Payne's 1993 triptych (three installments were published in one volume), Youth in Revolt took so long to make it to the screen it's practically a period piece. And while its star, Michael Cera, could not be more of-the-moment, the casting is a perfect fit: Cera's expertise in playing the moon-faced aspirant is largely derived from the bewilderment he seems to radiate at being caught out of his time -- a diffident, longhand wisp lodged in a vulgar, thumb-typing world. As Nick Twisp, adolescent narrator and hero of his own beleaguered, lonely life, Cera pulls from his usual hoodie full of tricks, and that's just fine: Pathologically incapable of a stale moment, as far as I'm concerned Michael Cera is better at playing Michael Cera than most actors are at playing anybody else.

The pleasant surprise -- and most of the fun contained within this genial but shambling portrait of a first, obsessive infatuation and its mutative effect on the developing male psyche -- is bound up in Cera's incarnation of Nick's alter ego, a ciggie smoking, pencil moustache-wearing id on legs named Francois Dillinger. In a deft bit of explicit, on-screen evolution, the actor suggests that the patented character we all assume is simply Michael Cera redux has not just unsuspected depths but range. And if Nick (and this is Cera's second Nick running) is Cera, then Cera is also the suave, sociopathic Francois! Le voila, haters!

C.D. Payne's novels are written as journals, and in presenting us with the life and times of Nick Twisp, director Miguel Arteta attempts to balance Nick-the-diarist's dramatic self-construction with more humbling, omniscient intimacies. The film opens, for instance, with the sound of what sounds and then is confirmed to be Nick masturbating, alone in bed. Only after we watch him catch his breath, then perfunctorily slip out of bed and continue on with the regularly scheduled teenaged boy business (putting on a record, scanning his private library -- like I said, 1993) does Cera's voiceover kick in, instructing us that this young onanist happens to be "a voracious reader of prose." All of the teenaged characters speak like rejects from an E. M. Forster novel, which is partly a joke on Nick, who clearly aspires to live in an E. M. Forster novel, and partly a joke on us, an audience assumed to find self-conscious elocutions and complete sentences hilarious -- which they are.

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