(2009)3.5Cammila CollarWhen you think about it, Youth in Revolt is kind of a genius move for nerdy heartthrob Michael Cera. Clearly, playing sweet, stammering, awkwardly adorable young men is this kid's bread and butter, and nobody can fault him for taking on those roles again and again. But, of course, he's not going to impress anybody by playing endless variations on George Michael from Arrested Development, so what's a boy to do? The answer is to play not one, but two roles in the 2009 comedy Youth in Revolt: the obligatory nervous-but-cute teenager Nick Twisp, and Twisp's badass invented alter ego, Francois Dillinger.
Twisp comes up with this secret identity for obvious reasons -- to impress a girl: the oddly sophisticated preacher's daughter Sheeni Saunders. The white-hot Francophile seems somewhat interested in Nick, but when such obstacles as distance, a French-language boarding school, and a preexisting stud muffin/poet boyfriend stand in the way of their love, Nick creates a bad-boy persona who can do what he can't -- namely, sneak into a girls-only dorm after hours, destroy both of his parents' cars in separate incidents, and sport the kind of mustache that only an unapologetic ass-kicker can leave the house with. Nick's reliance on Francois to do his dirty work is presented Tyler Durden-style, with Nick fumbling about confusedly in the face of some hectic situation, only to have Francois step into the same shot, verbally abuse his doppelganger for being such a wussy, and resolve the fiasco through unscrupulous means -- all while maintaining a stone-cold gaze, and usually dragging on a cigarette.
That all sounds kind of crazy, but the movie benefits from an extremely solid script. A story that comes to involve such madness as the protagonist setting half the town on fire and doing psychedelic mushrooms with Justin Long could easily spin into something unresolvable, but Youth in Revolt maintains just enough of a toehold on reality to keep you invested. None of that would matter, though, if it weren't for the mind-exploding effect of Cera's searing, badass performance as Mr. Francois Dillinger -- and Cera is almost frighteningly deft at playing the ultra-refined, fast-talking brute. The actor's own track record of playing humble, aw-shucks cuties would probably be enough to make his portrayal of the gritty, pseudo-Alain Delon character exceedingly novel, but placing the hard-quipping antihero literally next to one of Cera's stock roles onscreen only highlights the bizarrely awesome cognitive dissonance of the cinematic experience, adding a level of weirdness and surprise to what was already bound to be an enjoyable film.