★ ★ ★ ☆
The downside of subversive movies is that they are often mistaken for crass appeals to drug addled teenagers. Such is the case with Youth in Revolt. Needless to say, I didn't see it during it's theatrical run. After re-watching Juno a few days ago, I figured I'd give it a shot. I'm glad I did. Youth in Revolt is entertaining, and insightful. It examines contemporary culture through the lens of an imaginative young man, who's grounding in art house culture has ill prepared him for his place in the lower depths of the post-internet world.
Few films have honestly dealt with the realities of modern teenage life as Youth in Revolt has. We now live in a world where many parents are little more than peons, totally disconnected from the realities of the information society. Like the first generation of universally literate children, teenagers today have greater access to the world than most parents. This asymmetry makes the parent/child relationship awkward, and often counterproductive. This is Nick Twisp's reality.
Nick (Michael Cera) lives with his mother (Jean Smart), and her latest boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis). After the boyfriend is caught for selling a defective car, the family is forced to flee to a trailer park. There, Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Sheeni is an escapist, stuck in a trailer park with her zealous parents. She too is enthralled with art house culture, and dreams of travelling to France. Though she claims to have a boyfriend, they do become romantically involved. Through a series of unfortunate occurrences, Nick needs to leave the trailer park. Sheeni promises that if he can find a way to come back, she will date him. In order to make this happen, Nick invents an alter ego, whom he turns to for advice on how to con his way back into her life. He is a projection of what Nick believes Sheeni wants in a man. Micheal Cera with a mustache, a cigarette, and a bad attitude. Needless to say, things get out of hand.
During his quest to re-unite with Sheeni, Nick realizes that the adults who have ruled his life thus far are not so clever. Even the police have nowhere near as much control over his life as he'd thought. While he breaks the law on more than one occasion, the irony is that he is still less base than all of the adults in the movie. The police are corrupt; his mother is a tramp; Sheeni's parents are authoritarians. In short, his 'revolt' isn't entirely unjustifiable. Forces external (and unreasonable) are shaping his life, and he merely seeks to manipulate them to fulfill his normal teenage goals. Like John Hughes movies, it seeks to show that ungrateful teenagers actually are sometimes justified in their anger. A shady police officer is the bad guy, while his mother and father (Steve Buscemi) are Blase. The only moral guidance he has in life is from film, music, his peers, and his instincts.
Despite its moral complexity, Youth in Revolt is extremely accessible, and funny. Unlike most teen movies, it is very self aware. Yes, there are clicheed moments. However, they're balanced out by self mocking irony. It is a Michael Cera movie, after all. Miguel Arteta has proven that he's quite capable of fusing crude sexual humor, and teen angst. It's harder than it sounds.
Like Juno before it, Youth in Revolt is a serious attempt to examine traditional morality from the standpoint of a young person in today's world (in all of its vulgarity). While it didn't cut quite as deep as Juno, it is one of the most thoughtful teenage films of the last two decades (granted, the bar is low). Though its theatrical run has long passed, I strongly recommend picking up the DVD. You'll watch it more than once.