‘Youth In Revolt’: Good Boy Makes Bad, By Kurt Loder

Michael Cera deconstructed.

As every nice guy knows, girls have an inexplicable thing for bad boys. Which is bad news for Nick Twisp ([movieperson id="297537"]Michael Cera[/movieperson]), who unfortunately couldn’t be nicer. Nick is 16 years old and a budding sophisticate whose tastes — shared by no one in his circle of pathetic acquaintances — run to Frank Sinatra records and old Fellini movies. He’s also a virgin whose knowledge of sex consists entirely of rumor. He longs to score, ideally with a girl whose tastes run to Frank Sinatra records and old Fellini movies … or something, you know, similar.

But there’s no one like that in sight, or maybe even in existence. And meanwhile, everyone around Nick seems to be scoring like mad, even his divorced parents. His mom (Jean Smart), with whom he lives, is currently filling the vacancy in her love life with a beardy schlub named Jerry (Zach Galifianakis); and his dad (Steve Buscemi) is shacked up with a 25-year-old cupcake named Lacey (Ari Graynor). Nick is so ready to join the scoring multitudes, if only he could figure out how.

As we see, [movie id="362119"]“Youth in Revolt,”[/movie] which is adapted from the esteemed comic novel by C.D. Payne, has all the hallmarks of a Michael Cera movie. This time out, though, Cera opens up his familiar whimsical-nerd character, inserts a grenade (well, a small grenade) and pulls the pin. The result presents his subtle talent in a new light, and suggests interesting new directions in which he might take it.

Nick naturally meets the girl of his dreams. Her name is Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), and not only is she mind-foggingly cute, she’s also a fledgling Francophile who’s partial to the vintage films of Jean-Paul Belmondo and the ’60s song stylings of the late Serge Gainsbourg. Sheeni responds to Nick’s nice-guy qualities, but wishes he were a little more … well, bad — like Belmondo in “Breathless.” This would seem to be a deal-killer, but Nick is determined. He conjures up an alter-ego called François — a haughty Euro-stud in aviator shades, with a caterpillary mustache and an ever-present hand-rolled cigarette pasted to his lip. François teaches Nick all about being bad — from spitting on the carpet to blowing stuff up — and in the process, he nearly takes over the picture.

Having overcome his nice-guy handicap, Nick must now attempt to interpose himself between Sheeni and her semi-boyfriend, the preposterously hunky Trent (Jonathan Bradford Wright). François is happy to help. So when Sheeni’s parents send her off to a snooty boarding school — where Trent also happens to be a student — Nick and François (both played by Cera, of course, with fluid expertise) set off in pursuit. Sheeni wanted bad? Nick definitively brings it.

The movie has some really funny scenes — often fueled by Cera’s gift for the sour throwaway quip — and some pretty wild lines. (François’ suggestion for a studly come-on: “I’m going to wrap your legs around my head and wear you like the crown you are!”) There are also tasty cameos by Fred Willard and Ray Liotta (as a scummy cop, what else?), and brief, zesty performances by Justin Long (as Sheeni’s ‘shroom-swacked brother) and Rooney Mara (as her proudly slutty roommate). Does Nick finally get the girl? That’s hard to say, actually. But when Sheeni looks at him and says, “Kiss me, you wienie,” you know anything’s possible.

Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s review of “Daybreakers, also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Youth in Revolt.”

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