When I approached high school age, it seemed everybody around me lovingly remembered this time in their lives and proceeded to tell me I should anticipate the next four years of my life. I no longer speak to those people. They’re all wrong. High school sucked. “The worst four years of my life,” is how I fondly choose to remember it. It was a time when hormones rage and perhaps whether you’re able to do something about them or not determines your enjoyment level of your last formative years. I’m sure you can tell which category I found myself in. Most of my frustration stemmed from the lack of a female counterpart. I even feigned depression, hoping a psychologist could help me not be bothered so much by that fact. It didn’t help me find a mate, and had Youth in Revolt been around back then, it might’ve given me another solution.
Nick Twisp is a high school kid who doesn’t particularly care for where he currently stands in life. His main complaint lies with not having a girlfriend. Due to this, he doesn’t really like who he is as a person, even embarrassed by his last name. His best friend is named Lefty, for the direction his penis has a proclivity for leaning towards. Their main topic of conversation consists of the young women in school they have a thing for. Nick also introduces us to his home life, consisting of a mother whose only source of income are the child support payments she receives from Nick’s father, and his mother’s current boyfriend, Jerry, who’s the kind of sexed, redneck, grease-monkey Nick can’t possibly be expected to look up as the man of house.
Jerry schemes a pack of sailors, selling them a car which can only rival Adam Sandler’s lyrical vehicle in terms of poor performance. To avoid physical confrontation, Jerry thinks it’d be a good idea to pack up Nick and his mother to hide out in rural Ukiah, California for the summer. They situate themselves in a motor home at a semi-permanent campsite. While there, Nick runs into Sheeni, who instantly captures his attention and lust. Sheeni lives with her parents in their permanent trailer home at the park. Nick can’t believe his luck, but Sheeni tells him she has a boyfriend, Trent. Nick’s a nice guy, but he can’t compete with the French-speaking, prose-writing, beholder of Sheeni’s heart. Nevertheless, because Trent isn’t physically present to disapprove, Nick and Sheeni strike up a summer-long relationship, brought to an abrupt halt when Jerry no longer fears the pack of sailors and he moves the family back to Oakland, leaving Nick and Sheeni’s burgeoning relationship in jeopardy.
The two seasonal lovers devise a plan to reunite, despite their long physical distance. Their idea consists of Nick persuading his father to take a job in Ukiah, which Sheeni can make available through her connections. In order for Nick to move in with his dad and leave his mother without the benefits of child support, he must get kicked out of the house. He must be a bad kid for the first time in his life. He must do the opposite of every natural instinct he has, kind of like George Costanza in “The Opposite” episode of “Seinfeld.” In order to do this, he develops an alter ego named Francois. He’s like a Parisian Tyler Durden, without the philosophical ideologies. It’s up to Francois to reunite Nick with Sheeni and perhaps teach Nick a little bit about himself, along the way.
The film is based on a novel by C.D. Payne titled “Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp.” Nick does indeed a carry a journal in the film, but it doesn’t play a particularly huge role. The script was written by Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett), who I’m sure to tried to port over a lot of elements from the book, but it seems he bit off more than the movie could chew. There’s a particular problem with Trent, Sheeni’s “boyfriend,” who almost seems like a figment of her imagination. It’s made clear this isn’t the case, but never having him present until the final few minutes of the film makes you call him into question. It would make some slight sense if his role was a cameo of some sort, but unless you consider Jonathan B. Wright a recognizable face, this isn’t the case. He then disappears again when less than convenient. Although the film doesn’t revolve around him, he’s a pivotal character in Nick and Sheeni’s relationship and he should have had a bigger presence than practically name only.
The success of Youth in Revolt then hinges primarily on its performers. It has at least succeeded at lining up a number of names: Michael Cera, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard and Justin Long among them. Nick Twisp is a typical Cera character, nervous and awkward, but I like the persona he plays and enjoy it again here. He also brings a new twist in the form of Francois and although his performance here is a little less believable, it’s good to see him branch out of his comfort zone. Aside from Cera, however, only Willard succeeded in truly bringing out the laughs. All other actors I just mentioned are essentially wasted, which is extremely disheartening, given the talent.
Director, Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl), employs some unique visual stylistics. He imbues Nick’s instant falling-in-love moment with Sheeni, as he showers with slow motion drops of water bathing him in his new feeling of euphoria. He also creates some unique animated sequences, bridging the gaps from one city to another. He successfully adds a bit of flair to a story we’ve seen many times and makes it his own. The film was never boring, and constantly progressing forward, but there were times it felt a bit flat, like it was just going through the motions.
A great, but mostly misused cast elevates the material, but isn’t able to help it achieve greatness. Although this kind of story has been done numerous times, there are some fun elements throughout, namely the character of Francois as the devil on Nick’s shoulder. Its humor is its best asset, but you can’t help but think most of it was just adapted from the novel. This is the type of film I might have looked up to in my high school youth, but I have to imagine its source is the type of media that could enrich that time in one’s life, whereas the film is mostly just a diversion.