Those who want to see the Michael Cera they know and love and those who want to see him do something else can both find what they are looking for in “Youth in Revolt,” based on the popular epistolary novels by C.D. Payne. Cera plays Nick Twisp, the typical adolescent hero — his parents are insensitive mess-ups with love lives that embarrass Nick and make him even more acutely aware of how alone he is and how unlikely it seems that he will ever find a girlfriend.
And at first this is the typical Michael Cera role — a sensitive teenager who is not sure of himself but whose hesitant delivery produces makes the surprisingly barbed coherence of his comments particularly winning. But then, when Nick meets Sheeni (appealing newcomer Portia Doubleday) and realizes that faint heart never won fair lady and nice guys finish last, etc. etc., he realizes he needs to up his game. And so, like the Dark Knight, Dr. Jekyll, and The Nutty Professor, he takes on another persona, one that manifests his darker impulses. Nick becomes Francois Dillinger, named for the fantasy Frenchman Sheeni says she hopes to marry and, well, you know. Francois has a mustache, he smokes, and he wears slim, European white pants. He gets Nick into a lot of trouble, but he coolly keeps pushing him forward. The two Michael Ceras interact like “The Parent Trap” on crack.
The exceptionally strong supporting cast includes the Mary Kay Place and M. Emmett Walsh as Sheeni’s very strict Christian parents and Fred Willard as a soft-hearted liberal neighbor. Jean Smart plays Nick’s perpetually-unlucky-in-love mother (her suitors are Zach Galifianakis and Ray Liotta) and Steve Buscemi is his BMW-loving father. The episodic nature of the story seems to drift toward an end that seems hasty and contrived. But Director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck and Buck”) maintains a darkly comic tone, twisted but buoyant, that will feel authentic to anyone who has survived — or hopes to survive — adolescence.
Parents should know that this film includes drinking, smoking, and drug use by teenagers and adults, explicit sexual references, some crude, and graphic sexual situations, some comic peril and violence including a car crash, and very strong language. There is some humor at the expense of observant Christians.
Family discussion: How did thinking up another persona help or hurt Nick? What did Nick and Sheeni have in common?
If you like this, try: “Lord Love a Duck” and “Harold and Maude”