When people say that Michael Cera has been essentially replicating his work that made him famous in the much-beloved Arrested Development from a couple of years ago, I can see what they're saying. He's certainly got the awkward teen male thing down pat and will probably continue to ride that gravy train until its wheels fall off. I can't blame him for that, but when given slightly different subject material, I think that Cera's traits tend to take things to an improvedevel, such as in the case of Youth in Revolt.
Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett) adapted the C.D. Payne novel into a screenplay that Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) directed. Cera plays Nick Twisp, a kid who hates his name, is a social outcast at school, and is a near-afterthought at home. His mother hops from boyfriend to boyfriend, whether it's the cantankerous Jerry (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover) or the slightly steadier but still sleazy Lance (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas). On a trip to a trailer park, he meets the attractive yet mysterious Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), who he thinks is his reason for being. To be the kind of man he thinks she wants, Nick creates Francois, an alternate personality who helps him win her affections and sway her from her current beau.
Upon first glance, a story like that would appear beyond Cera's comfort zone, but with various storytelling methods (including voiceover from Cera), it becomes less of him reincarnating Arrested Development's George Michael and more him honoring the John Cusack-Savage Steve Holland comedies of the mid '80s with their generous portions of cutesy romance and animated and claymation sequences. Both also illustrated men's feelings of inadequacy in relation to the women they courted and included a fair share of cool music and funny moments. Cera goes from being an inadequate supporting character (in Development) to inadequate male lead in a charming manner, and his alter ego gives him a chance to do all the things that Nick is afraid to do. Fortunately, having supporting cast members, who, by their own credentials, are well-respected in independent film circles (Fred Willard, Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart) helps give Cera the confidence he needs to carry the story on his own. Even Mary Kay Place (It's Complicated) and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) appear as Sheeni's parent's for God's sake!
In fact, if there was one thing I could point to that was slightly distracting, it's that the movie tended to revel in being a little too independent. It's one thing to be a high school outcast and like weird music, but Nick's choice of Frank Sinatra and Sheeni's preference for Serge Gainsbourg feels a little bit forced. With Cusack and Holland, there was always underlying weirdness that made you laugh, even when they pulled a joke out of the air. Here it's understood that Nick is shunned, even by his own family to some degree, but Cera can't quite manage to convince you of his life of loneliness. Jesse Eisenberg has a better chance of pulling this off, but Cera, not so much.
Even with that, you root for Nick as he tries to woo Sheeni. He feels so connected to her that, despite the grand destructive plans of Francois, he learns that being yourself is the best way to get the girl. Timeless as that lesson is, it appears as if Cera, as well as Nick, both learn it well here. And that's what you want, right? To have the line between actor and character blurred. This is what makes Youth in Revolt better than just another recycled Michael Cera performance.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Sony uses the AVC encoded for the 1.85:1 widescreen high-definition presentation of Youth In Revolt, and there's no complaint from these lips, as the film juggles the claymation, animation and live-action scenes all capably. The image is reproduced accurately and without artifacts or noticeable picture issues, and image detail on tight shots of "Francois" is a little better than I was expecting; you can actually spy his facial growth. Colors look distinct without oversaturation, and flesh tones appear lifelike and without any additional color push to them. Exteriors possess their own level of detail and have a slight multidimensional feel to them as well.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless. There's a bit more music in the film than I was expecting, but it sounds good, providing the viewer with a glimpse into the soundstage of the film. Ambient noise such as the beach scenes are reproduced effectively with some directional effects in the rear channels. Dialogue sounds well balanced in the center channel throughout the film without coming into the other channels, which is welcome due to the amount of voiceover in the film. It's not a room shaker, but it stands as a perfectly acceptable high-definition audio track. Technically Sony has done a commendable job with this new release.
What's here is a little underwhelming. Arteta and Cera team up for a commentary that is bland and without life for the most part. Though they do present a bit of trivia that is jaw-dropping; the old man who sells Jerry the camper? That is Michael Collins, who just happens to be the other astronaut from the Apollo 11 mission. He flew the craft while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon's surface. As great as that nugget is though, it doesn't carry a 90-minute commentary that throws in occasional recollections about the cast and little useful production information. Nine deleted scenes (10:48) are next, some of which show Jerry's final destiny. Five deleted/extended animated sequences are next (7:11), and audition footage by the other cast members, including Galifianakis, completes the disc (7:45).
There is the potential for Youth In Revolt to serve as a Better Off Dead for the 21st century. With any guy who was shot down by a girl in high school, wasn't the natural thought to make yourself so worthy that when the girl came back you'd laugh in her face? No? Well, I guess I spent high school the wrong way. Either way, the film is charming enough and looks/sounds sharp, even if the extras are on the 'meh' side. It's worth checking out.