“Youth in Revolt” could mark the moment where Michael Cera’s standard persona of timid, virginal worrier wears out its welcome. He’s starting to suffer from “Funny, But” Syndrome, i.e., “What you’re doing here is funny, but it’s the same thing you did in the last six movies.” We’re amused and all, but … come on.
His dweeby character this time is Nick Twisp, a 16-year-old Oakland boy who is, in his own words, “a voracious reader of classic prose.” He lives with his mother (Jean Smart) and her series of worthless, younger boyfriends (currently Zach Galifianakis); his dad (Steve Buscemi) is shacked up with a trophy blonde (Ari Graynor). Yes, even Nick’s repulsive parents are getting more action than he is.
While living in a trailer park for a week (something to do with Mom’s boyfriend avoiding some angry sailors), Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a likeminded teen who also speaks pretentiously and melodramatically and has a thing for vinyl records and foreign movies. The daughter of religious fanatics (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place), she’s been dating a strait-laced preppie named Trent (Jonathan B. Wright), but she takes a liking to Nick. Nick is smitten.
They scheme to be together even after Nick goes back to Oakland with his mom and her boyfriend, but this will require some bad behavior, with which Nick is unfamiliar. Sheeni likes a little of the “bad boy.” So here’s the weird part: Nick invents a sort of alter ego, Francois Dillinger, who appears next to him and tells him which naughty things to do and say. Nick doesn’t actually believe that Francois exists — this isn’t schizophrenia — he just represents his baser impulses. Also played by Cera, Francois smokes cigarettes and has a wispy mustache, and is just as eloquent in his speech as Nick is. The difference is that Francois uses his eloquence to say filthy things, and his bright mind to come up with reckless things for Nick to do to assure being sent to live with his dad (which will mean being closer to Sheeni).
Based on a novel by C.D. Payne, the film was written by Gustin Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”) and directed by Miguel Arteta, whose “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl” indicate he’s no stranger to odd, awkward comedy. (He directed a few episodes of “The Office,” too.) Cera is unquestionably amusing in both of his roles, but Francois isn’t proof that Cera can do something different. Francois only works as a contrast: We know he’s the opposite of who Nick Twisp/Michael Cera really is, and that makes him funny.
The cast is good — terrific, actually. Ray Liotta appears as a cop, Fred Willard is a bleeding-heart neighbor, Justin Long has a couple scenes as Sheeni’s brother. Unfortunately, many of these peripheral characters are overly quirky and serve no purpose in the story, which rambles a bit anyway with a detour to a snooty boarding school.
But granted that it’s just the same old thing, the movie isn’t a bad example of it. Part coming-of-age story, part subversive teen satire, it plays to Cera’s strengths, which, though overly familiar at this point, are still strengths.
B- (1 hr., 30 min.; )