Michael Cera is one of the more interesting actors working today. He has a vast body of work that includes Superbad, Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and his newest film, Youth in Revolt. As impressive as his list of films is, the range of his characters isn't. He has consistently been cast as the nervous, sexually-awkward, socially-challenged teenager. This would be something to complain about if it didn't always work. There is nothing unpleasant about watching him finesse these roles year after year. Now I don't know if Cera is a special actor. I don't know if he will have this kind of success as he gets older. But I do know that this is a smart actor. He knows what projects are good for him, and that's an underrated trait in the world of acting.In Miguel Arteta's Youth in Revolt, Cera stars as the 16-year-old Nick Twisp. Nick lives with his divorced mother Estelle (Jean Smart), who seems to be living with a different man each week. At the start of the film, it is the repulsive -- but hilarious -- Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). When Jerry gets into trouble, he decides to take the family on a road trip. They end up in a trailer park where Nick meets the girl of his dreams, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday).
Sheeni has a troubled life as well. Her parents (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place) are religious enthusiasts, creating an atmosphere that frowns upon the French poetry and vibrant lifestyle that Sheeni dreams of. She is as miserable in her trailer as Nick is in his, and perhaps because of this, they click. Their relationship could very well be the light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel is a long, strange, and complicated ride that starts with Nick learning that Sheeni has a boyfriend named Trent (Jonathan B. Wright).
Upon his departure from the trailer park, Nick can't deny the fact that he can't live without this girl. In light of this, he decides to create an alternate personality willing to do the things Nick Twisp has always been afraid of. This altar-ego goes by the name of Francois Dillinger, a chain-smoking Frenchman that represents the voice in your head we're all taught not to listen to. This character is mostly played for laughs, but the deeper persona does occasionally present an effective contrast to the actor's usual mannerisms.
While this film belongs entirely to Cera, the supporting cast is full of recognizable names. Portia Doubleday, who plays the hero's love interest, is not one of them. She's an actress nobody knows of, but her charming work in this film ensures that she has a future in the industry. The film also guest stars Ray Liotta as a sex-crazed cop, Steve Buscemi as Nick's divorced father, Fred Willard as the oddly polite next door neighbor, and Justin Long as Sheeni's deadbeat brother. It's an enjoyable cast to say the least, and it's the main reason to see the film.
Youth in Revolt doesn't have many new things to say about the coming-of-age issue that has become so popular in modern film. The script is clever, but nothing to write home about. It's a predictable affair, but it still manages to be a breezily delightful one as well. Michael Cera -- perhaps for the first time -- is asked to carry the weight of an entire project on his shoulders, and he does just that. His delivery is dead-on and he creates a character that we would most likely care less about if it was played by someone else. There is a subtle ingenuity in the way this actor is able to communicate a true desire without ever really saying it in plain words. Despite all of the rebellious things this character ends up doing, Cera makes sure we know that Nick Twisp has a strong conscience. He just has a stronger need for love.