Michael Cera is as Michael Cera does. He's got to be one of the youngest actors to become so well-known for playing exactly one character as to be typecast to play himself. In the past six years, he's gone from obscurity to a household name to backlash. In "Arrested Development," Superbad (rating: 80), Juno (rating: 75), Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Year One, and now Youth in Revolt, he's played the same character, an awkward, self-apologetic beanpole of a nerd who struggles to fit in and worries about girls, but eventually gets the smart but cute one in the end. He does it extremely well, and it's a really funny character, but after you've seen it four times, you really don't need to see it again. Fortunately, he plays two characters in Youth in Revolt: his usual, and his mustachioed alter ego François. François doesn't show up till the second half, and the movie really doesn't pick up till then either.
Mostly, Cera plays Nick Twisp, another oververbose kid who obsesses about sex and daydreams of ways to get some. He meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the daughter of pious Christians who's smart, cute, sexy, and oversexed at 16, she's his perfect girl, but she wants a bad boy -- so he decides to break just about every law he can to win her. She's a lovely acress, a beguiling mix of cute and jailbait sexy, though I think she would have worked even better if she was slightly less glamorous, wore slightly less makeup, and looked like more of a 16 year old. (She was 19 during filming.)
Also, none of the reviewers are really bringing this up, but Sheeni's character is pretty close to Jessica Lovejoy. She's the main character in the "Bart's Girlfriend" episode of the Simpsons (Season 6, 1994), the pretty, wild, naughty daughter of Reverend Lovejoy that Bart Simpson falls in love with. (And she's voiced by Meryl Streep.) Everyone thinks she's perfect, and only Bart knows the truth: she's one of the few people bad enough to make him feel his conscience. And she knows that she can't get caught, as she reminds Bart in her most famous line: "Because, if you tell, no one will believe you. Remember I'm the sweet, perfect minister's daughter... and you're just yellow trash." That's not the tone that Youth in Revolt takes toward Sheeni, but considering the crimes that she inspires Nick to commit -- grand theft, arson, and poisoning, among others -- the comparison is apt.
The thing is, this kind of movie is really played out. The script and acting are both too reminiscent of Juno, the kind of precious, twee affectation that Cera has perfected and needs to put on a shelf never to use again. The chemistry between the two leads is sort of adorable, and Cera's alter ego is fun, and the stacked supporting cast -- M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, Ray Liotta, Zack Galifianakis, Justin Long, and Steve Buscemi -- means that there's always someone worth watching onscreen. But that's it. My reserve of goodwill is completely spent. I've seen this movie before, and I don't need to see it again. It's half a good movie -- once François shows up and Cera transforms from his usual nebbishy self to a hopelessly smitten would-be sociopath, the pace quickens, the romance blooms, and the movie finishes as you'd expect.
Crossposted on Remingtonstein.