When it comes to releasing movies, many refer to the first few months of a new year as “the dump months”. It is rumoured here that when studios don’t have enough faith in a movie or a target audience is yet to be determined for a movie, the movie in question is usually released during these beginning months. However, this theory has been challenged when original films such as Cloverfield or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are released during the beginning of the year and they receive an abundance of praise; even winding up on top 10 lists when the year comes to an end. Just when this theory of “the dump months” seems to be vanishing away, a movie like Youth in Revolt arrives and shatters any chance of “the dump months” idea falling through the cracks. I’m afraid this idea is still in tact and on that note, we have Youth in Revolt. A putrid, hateful mess that has no idea if it wants to stick to its quirky, independent station or if it wants to venture off into mainstream, gross-out comedy territory. It’s Napoleon Dynamite if Pedro was Stifler. No good idea is in this, not one iota.
Nick Twisp, played by Michael Cera, is a bit of a loner. He has only one friend, who creepily hovers over his thoughts of himself and his crush, and Nick’s mom, who bounces from one guy to another, is currently dating a scheming dirtbag, Jerry. When Jerry ends up in a situation where he’s sold a hunk of a junk car to a couple of sailors, the dysfunctional lot runs away from their home and move into a trailer park where Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, played by Portia Doubleday. The two begin, and quickly form a romance. The two can’t get enough of each other, however, Sheeni can’t commit. She wants Nick to break away from being the “good, nice guy”. Thinking that Sheeni is “the one” who will also be the girl to take his virginity, Nick creates an alter ego named Francois. When complications arise, such as Sheeni moving away to another school, the audience follows the adventures Nick and Francois take in order to be by Sheeni’s side; no matter how dangerous the mission may be.
Sometimes a story can work when in the right hands but in this case, I don’t think any good story can be salvaged. This is by far one of the worst produced scripts that I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to. Screenwriter Gustin Nash does nothing here to get the audience to care for any of these characters. Instead, he inserts quirks and pretentious dialogue so an audience will think the characters are cool and know what they’re doing when it comes to their actions. Talking about your favourite obscure movies doesn’t condone your decision to set a building on fire for the woman you love. Because of these writing mishaps, the characters are all mean spirited, flat charactatures. The dialogue is really tedious as well. We have two teenagers talking as if they were in their 30’s in the 1950’s. It’s not cute, it’s not funny, it’s annoying. For those who thought the dialogue in Juno was headache inducing, you certainly have another thing coming. That said, the romance between Nick and Sheeni isn’t well developed at all and feels really rushed. The situations aren’t funny or original either. In order to sneak into somewhere to see Sheeni, Nick is forced to dress up as a girl. Again, how many times have we seen this before? At one point, Sheeni’s brother, played by Justin Long, appears in a handful of scenes just to do drugs with uptight people in the scene. That said, we then see well known, pristine actors, such as M. Emmet Walsh, making a fool of himself, rubbing mashed potatoes on his face. Really? That said, didn’t Justin Long play this exact same character in the film Strange Wilderness a couple years ago? Dear God. Also, there are animation sequences in this film that occur when characters are driving from one place to another. We’re supposed to accept these fun, little sequences as just another quirky ride but it only screams out how cheap the movie is and how irrelevant they are to the actual story. I wouldn’t mind these if Nick was an artist or something akin but these sequences are just there and do nothing to progress the story or our interest for the characters. It does almost feel like the movie ran out of money and couldn’t shoot these scenes and, therefore, had to resort to a much easier, simpler method. Overall, the film feels very disjointed; as if there are scenes missing from the film. With all this said, I haven’t read the book it’s based upon so for all I know the film could be faithful to the book. However, in an interview with Michael Buckley of What The Buck, Michael Cera has stated that portions of the book didn’t make it into the film due to time restraints. If that’s so, the script doesn’t do a good job at all transitioning from one event to another. To my understanding, the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films have cut a lot out in order to fit a running time and, for someone who hasn’t read the books, I haven’t noticed. I’m confused as to how Nash couldn’t execute these transitions well with his adaptation of Youth in Revolt. These are just some of the many awful tactics the script inherits.
I appreciate Michael Cera trying to do something that’s “outside the box” acting-wise and both Cera and Doubleday do have solid on-screen chemistry but, due to the nature of the horrendous script, they are given nothing to work with and the two actors, plus the supporting actors, flounder around, rambling, looking very confused. Like stated during the script rant, a lot of the time I felt really sorry for the well known actors in this movie who should know better. For instance, we have Steve Buscemi, as Nick’s biological father, doing prat falls. Like M. Emmet Walsh rubbing mashed potatoes all over his face, we have Fred Willard, also stoned, lying face first on the ground, muttering and grumbling. As an audience member who has followed these actors through their roles for years, I’m left feeling really distraught and hoping that a much better theatrical vehicle will come around and give these guys the roles that use their talents and abilities to the full extent. However, the actors wouldn’t feel so puppet-like if they had a better, more thoughtful director. Miguel Arteta, who also directed the film festival favourite Chuck & Buck a couple years ago, is given this script and has absolutely no idea what to do. Like the actors, his directions for the motivations in the film are muddled and unclear and it feels like he gave the actors a lot of leeway to do whatever they wanted. However, with a film like this, a director has to have a clear vision of what each character is thinking and to understand why each character is doing what they’re doing. It ultimately feels like no one on set had any motivation and everyone just said “hey, you know what? Let’s just let the quirkiness take this movie in whatever direction it wants to go”.
Maybe I just need to read the book and see how each medium compares but ultimately, Youth in Revolt suffers from a rancid script that is the achilles heel of this movie. Without a sharp script, everything falls apart and what the audience ends up with is a lazy, hateful movie that expects the audience to open up to it because of it’s cute quirkiness. Even though we may still be in these “dump months” currently, I have a feeling Youth in Revolt will hang around in my head for quite sometime making me feel really distraught as to how a movie like this got greenlit. It’s still early in the year, I know, but Youth in Revolt is and will definitely be one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, if not the worst.