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Youth in Revolt

A 2010 American film adaptation of C.D. Payne's novel of the same name.

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Not One to Root for, but Far from Being Revolting

  • Jan 9, 2010
In 1993 C.D. Payne wrote a Young Adult Novel called Youth in Revolt about a teenager named Nick Twisp.  It was a series that was eventually split into six books.  The first three were compressed together to form an epic novel that was simply called "Youth in Revolt."  It's those three books combined that this movie is based off of.  The book itself is a cult classic.  With an interesting character in Nick Twisp.  He may not be that believable but he is likeable and charming.  They tried to adapt the book once before in 1998, but it didn't exactly work.  It was originally supposed to come out in October of 2009 but was pushed back for some reason.  With the film being based off of the first three books in a six part series (that was ultimately over 500 pages in length) it's hard to imagine that all 500 pages of said book could be contained in 90 minutes.  Indeed it isn't (but we'll get to that later, for those who really want to know), but what you get isn't really so bad of a movie in and of itself.  Michael Cera has done better, certainly, and there are a gaggle of movies that are much funnier than Youth in Revolt, and that present itself much better.  Simply put, while Youth in Revolt isn't really all that bad... it is a little overstuffed for what it tries to accomplish.

Michael Cera does a good job of playing Michael Cera... er, uh, Nick Twisp!  A teenager who is pretty embarassed by his name.  His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother (Jean Smart)... who is married to some jerk named Jerry (played by The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis--try say THAT name three times fast with crackers in your mouth).  When they go on vacation they meet Sheeni Saunders played by newcomer Portia Doubleday.  When he meets Sheeni Saunders he's discovered that perhaps he has met the love of his life.  Sheeni happens to be intelligent, pretty and obsessed with the same kinds of things he is.  Including Frank Sinatra and French Cinema.  Pretty soon, though, Nick is faced with the inevitable: they just can't be together forever because they live too far apart from one another.  Besides, Nick soon discovers, Sheeni wants a bad boy.  There is a solution, however.  If Nick can get his mother to send him to live with his father--who lives pretty close to Sheeni, then they can be together.  It's time for Nick to revolt.  For that Nick makes up an alter ego--Francois Dillinger who is willing to do the things that Nick can't, and say the things that Nick can't say.  The movie plays on this by making sure you can see Nick and Francois at the same time, but makes it pretty obvious they're the same guy.  No one else can see Francois.  At first it seems rather goofy, but you eventually settle into it.

Nick revolts a little too well, however, and never seems to stop once he gets going.  More than that it seems like each time he gets close to Sheeni (and close to losing his virginity) he falls short.  Yes, in the end it's yet, another teen comedy about a teenage guy trying to get laid... that stars Michael Cera.  In fact there's even a point where Sheeni says to him, "You're a virgin.  I can tell."  I'm guessing that wasn't in the script and that she just figured it out when she realized Michael Cera was in the lead role.  The idea has been done over and over again but most movies tend to put in a little something extra in there.  Superbad, for exampled, used it's "Two guys trying to get laid before college," plot to cover up that the movie was really about two friends who have trouble dealing with leaving one another.  There's not much beneath the surface with Youth in Revolt, however, and even more than that the movie squeezes in far too much story in too short of a time period to really provide us with a whole lot.  Some bits of the movie feel rushed while others feel slightly overstuffed.

Michael Cera is no stranger to playing the awkward geeky teen.  Ever since we saw him on Arrested Development he's more or less been playing the same character ever since.  Francois gives us a chance to see Michael Cera do a 180, and most of the results are pretty comical, though won't exactly convince you Michael Cera can do much more than... play that awkward geeky teenager.  In some ways it seems as though they tried a little too hard to get Michael Cera to be different.  Francois has a strange mustache, wears these tight, bright clothes, shakes and drags on a cigarette just about every time we see him, and tries to talk all cool and suave.  The dialog isn't exactly the strongest part of Youth in Revolt, however.  There's plenty lifted directly from C.D. Payne's book... and that's part of the problem.  We can deal with the sixteen year olds being really smart guys... but nearly every character we meet is just as smart and talks in the same manner as Nick does.  The dialog is no where near as annoying as it could get in the book, but you do sometimes look and listen to these characters and begin to think that perhaps they're actually supposed to be a bit older than this.  That's not to say there aren't any witty dialog exchanges.  There are.  Plenty of them, but you'll be struck by some odd phrases and sentences that make you wonder if it's even possible for these guys to speak in a way that your average teen might speak.

If there was definitely one place where Youth in Revolt definitely messes up, it would be its character development.  As I said, the movie is 90 minutes long... which isn't even enough time to flesh out most of the characters.  You get some great appearances in the film by the likes of Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and Justin Long, but their characters aren't developed enough or realized enough for you to even consider their talent in the long run.  Youth in Revolt introduces us to lots of characters but works to develop few.  At least Nick and Sheeni get a lot of time on screen.  On the other hand we're even introduced to some characters who just don't seem to serve a whole lot of purpose.  I'm speaking specifically of Nick's friend Lefty, who pops up two or three times, spouts off some forgettable dialog and then is never heard from again... or Trent who pops up and is quickly forgotten.  Even these moments wouldn't be so bad... if every character didn't feel like the same character.  Only Lefty really sticks out as being someone boldy different, but he's hardly there.  Other supporting characters almost feel like you're looking at different variations of the same character on screen from one scene to the next.  They all talk with this sort of "high society" intellect and all--some of which comes off as just all around strange from a bunch of sixteen year olds (from a cast that doesn't look at all sixteen--including Michael Cera).  The most annoying character in that regard is definitely Trent.  If you've seen a stereotypical rich snob on television... you've seen Trent.  All this wouldn't be so bad if the characters had dimension to them, but most of them don't.  And trying to squeeze all of these guys into 90 minutes just isn't easy.  There's a surprisingly large cast of important characters--even the ones who are pretty minor.

The movie is pretty funny though.  There's a scene involving mushrooms that's absolutely hilarious.  Michael Cera is often a treat on screen.  He plays the same guy time and time again but at least he's charming while he does it.  Michael Cera is a treat, but there's a lot of good comedy from Justin Long, despite that he only appears in the movie for a short amount of time.  For the most part you have a good cast to offset the lack of focus on character development.  And it's an all star cast.  Most of them do a good job, but the movie isn't quite as funny as you'd believe.  There are plenty of humorous moments, but there are also a lot of dry spells.  The movie never comes to a complete stop, but the witty banter does.  Some jokes fall flat.  As I said, however, the cast is a pretty likable lot, and they'll keep you watching.  It's just not as rewarding as you might think.  Aside from the mushrooms, the funniest parts are mostly in the trailers.  While there are other funny moments, and it's clear you're watching a comedy, it's just a little sad that in its moments without humor.. it rarely tries to fill the void with something else. 

You might see Youth in Revolt as a coming of age story of sorts, but much of it whips by so fast that we hardly see just how the characters change.  Near the end especially it's just not convincing enough just how Nick and Sheeni enjoy their moment together because just a couple of scenes before there's a huge ounce of drama where the characters find out one of the things Nick has done, and they get mad at him.  Yet mere minutes later all is forgiven without much explanation at all.  This is what makes it feel overstuffed.  Parts of it move too fast with hardly any exposition at all.  It's almost like listening to a really excited friend try to tell you a story, but because of his excitement he's going too fast that he just forgets to mention certain things.  So you end up saying things like, "He did who with the what, now?"

In terms of following it's source material, Youth in Revolt is hardly the kind of movie that is even capable of doing something like this.  Since it's based off the first three volumes of the series, they're trying to cram 500 pages into 90 minutes.  It doesn't take much to see that a lot of stuff had to be cut out of the book.  If you were one who read and enjoyed the book there are whole characters cut, subplots changed over and everything.  This is because the book was 500 pages (and over 200,000 words) that could only be condensed into 90 minutes if it were a lightning quick movie.  On the other hand, it's also part of the reason WHY some moments in Youth in Revolt just don't translate well to film.  It's TRYING, in many cases to follow the book.  What they pull mostly does, but even then it pulls a little too much and tries to squeeze it into such little time.  There are few movies based off books that can condense a 500 page book into a mere 90 minute film and do it well.  Needless to say, if you really loved the book, you'll be disappointed to know that there's a lot left on the cutting room floor.  What they pull from the book is adapted, for the most part, faithfully and what's been changed isn't much, but there's still this idea that there are just certain aspects of literature that just aren't well reserved for the screen.  Youth in Revolt is a great example of why sometimes a loose adaptation is probably better.  It tries incredibly hard to be like the book, but there's just so much of the book.  The reason the two mediums are so hard to combine is because film often has a limit and most books don't.  The book is filled with so many subplots, absurdies and so much character development that had they put it all in there... you might've had to settle for a three hour long film or soemthing like that... and no one wants to watch a three hour long movie about a boy trying to get laid.  That's not to say Youth in Revolt couldn't stand to be a little longer.  It might help to fill in some of the gaps the plot leaves and flesh out more of its characters.

Youth in Revolt isn't a bad movie.  It's just a movie that felt like it needed a polish.  It tries to stuff a lot into its plot in such a short time, and while it has an all-star cast, its characters just aren't that well developed.  And while Michael Cera does a great job of being that awkward teen... he might not be the best person to be that bad boy kind of guy.  It's hardly disappointing, it just feels incomplete somehow.

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February 02, 2010
I giggled when you described it as a strange mustache. It does look a odd. Like a little kid trying their parents shoes and playing grown-up. They stumble around in big shoes that do not fit them. When I read yr book review it made me realize HOW much was very loosely based... like the Carlotta character?
January 13, 2010
Great review, Sean!  I can totally see where you're coming from what with some parts of the movie not making sense because it was trying to pull too much out of a really long book.  This probably would have made a better mini series.  Thanks for sharing, Sean! :)
January 12, 2010
I wasn't sure what to think about this movie. I think I am going to wait for the DVD.
January 10, 2010
I was curious about this movie because I thought it was going to rock, though the previews didn't convince me, the cast did. However, it appears that my original instinct on the previews is correct- I think I'll save it for Netflix Sundays! Thanks for saving me money! Great, thorough review once again, Sean.
January 10, 2010
Michael Cera has this uncanny knack for pulling off awkward roles. This sounds rather uneven but I am curious. I am thinking of seeing "Dr. Parnassus" but I think I'll save my $$ for LEGION, Lovely Bones and Book of Eli. I have too many films I want to see until April. You went all the way in your analysis on this one. Nice part when you compared the movie to the book.
January 10, 2010
I'm not always fond of comparing mediums but I do it for the sake of those who are curious to know.  I'm not sure on Legion (every time I see that trailer I think the old lady is hilarious) but Dr. Parnassus I might look into. I've been waiting for The Lovely Bones forever and I'm curious to see Book of Eli.  Could be interesting.
January 10, 2010
Legion and the Book of Eli is high on my must see list in theaters. The old woman is part of the reason why I wanna see it. I actually appreciate your efforts in comparing the book; I like that approach. Keep it up!
More Youth in Revolt (movie) reviews
review by . June 20, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****       I'm beginning to admire Miguel Arteta more and more as I see more of his feature films. Maybe I like the guy because he crafts comedies as few other genre directors can. He's something special, for sure, and he often gets a boost from his nicely-picked screen-writers. I liked Arteta's film "Youth in Revolt" because it has Arteta written all over it. It's a funny, often clever and sly, and sometimes whimsical coming-of-age comedy that may not rank …
review by . February 04, 2010
Michael Cera is a smart, funny, slightly awkward young man.  I know this because every role he has ever played has reinforced this knowledge.  Like Christopher Walken before him he excells at playing versions of himself.  And he does the same in Miguel Arteta's film "Youth in Revolt," adapted from the novel of the same name by C.D. Payne.  But part way through the film something very interesting happens, Nick Twisp (Cera) creates a 'don't give a damn' alter ego …
Quick Tip by . July 30, 2010
The movie did a good job using the various plot elements found in the book and shortening it to the good parts. It's good, but be prepared for some crude and filthy language.
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
You might see Youth in Revolt as a coming of age story of sorts, but much of it whips by so fast that we hardly see just how the characters change. Near the end especially it's just not convincing enough just how Nick and Sheeni enjoy their moment together because just a couple of scenes before there's a huge ounce of drama where the characters find out one of the things Nick has done, and they get mad at him. Yet mere minutes later all is forgiven without much explanation at all. This is what makes …
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
prepare yourself for a movie that's kind of random, sort of in a good way, though not with much of a point. it's reasonably entertaining and will hold your interest most of the way through. also be prepared to watch this kid play the same role he's done in every other film : / it'll put you in the mood to watch a real film that used this device successfully... i.e. Fight Club.
review by . January 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Your enjoyment of YOUTH IN REVOLT will mostly directly correlate to a) how much you like Michael Cera's "signature" film persona & b) how anxious you are to see him try something else.    Whether he's Nick in NICK & NORA'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, George Michael in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT or the guy in SUPERBAD or the caveman guy in YEAR ONE...Cera mostly gives one performance, that is only modulated by as little as he can get away with. (Let me be clear...when he's modulated his performance …
Quick Tip by . January 14, 2010
YOUTH IN REVOLT is Michael Cera's first serious play for progress in his career and he does not disappoint.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Michael Cera adds to his collection of quick-witted young men with his portrayal of 16-year-old Nick Twisp. Born on the trashy side of the Oakland tracks, Nick hates his name almost as much as his life. Everyone he knows, including his divorced parents (Jean Smart and Steve Buscemi), gets more action than he does, but his luck changes when he meets junior femme fatale Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) during a trailer-park vacation. She may have overprotective parents (Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh) and a boyfriend back at school, but she also likes Jean-Paul Belmondo movies, Serge Gainsbourg records--and Nick. There's just one hitch--she prefers bad boys, so Nick creates cynical, cigarette-smoking alter ego François Dillinger to win her heart (just as musician Gainsbourg created devilish doppelgänger Gainsbarre). Little does Nick know he's playing with fire--literally--since François gives him license to set his pent-up inhibitions free: he sneaks into Sheeni's private-school dorm, blows up his mother's boyfriend's car (Zach Galifianakis as the boyfriend), and trips on magic mushrooms with Sheeni's burnout brother and a radical family friend (Justin Long and Fred Willard, both hilarious). As withChuck and BuckandThe Good Girl, Miguel Arteta's adaptation of C.D. Payne's young adult series offers equal parts sorrow and humor. The animated sequences add whimsy, but there's something more disturbing than romantic about ...
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Director: Miguel Arteta
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: January 8, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2010
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studio: Permut
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