Monday, February 1, 2010

Blog In Revolt: A Review of YOUTH IN REVOLT, plus: PEE-WEE!

Back from a fun-filled weekend, and slowly but surely getting back into the grind of the work-week. One cool thing I did this weekend: I saw Pee-Wee Herman live! The show at the Nokia Live theater in downtown LA was really cool - a nostalgic recreation of the old Pee Wee's Playhouse show, with some more adult humor mixed in. But man, when the curtain first pulls back, and you see that Pee Wee's Playhouse set lovingly recreated, there is that collective gasp from the audience - it's definitely a rush to see it right there in front of you in three dimensions. And the show is just a lot of fun (seriously, "fun" is the secret word). There's so much creativity on display, it's hard not to get caught up in it all. You can tell that Pee-Wee and the rest of the cast are having a blast, and their enthusiasm is infectious. All in all, the show is good times - I'd highly recommend it for anyone who loved Pee Wee's Playhouse as a kid.

Anyways, it's been a while since I posted any movie or TV reviews, so ... here's a long-time-comign review of a movie I saw a few weeks back, that I've been meaning to talk about for a while.


- At first glance, Youth In Revolt might seem like your typical teen comedy, but the reality is that it's anything but. It's hyper-stylized and decidedly unique, with a lot of intelligence and quirkiness in its densely-packed script. The end result is a movie that's like a Wes Anderson comedy crossed with a teen romp like American Pie, with a dose of Fight Club-style personality disorder and nihilism thrown in for good measure. If that sounds strange, it is. And while the film can be a bit messy and overstuffed, it's still worth checking out if you like this sort of thing. Personally, I'm always up for a quirky teen comedy that completely stays away from the usual genre formulas and cliches.

Based on a novel by C.D. Payne, Youth in Revolt is the story of the unfortunately named Nick Twisp, a sadsack teen geek who mostly keeps to himself, reads a lot, listens to old records, and pines after girls who he most likely doesn't have a shot with. Suffice it to say, it's the kind of role tailor-made for Michael Cera, who has no trouble making Nick an instantly likeable yet sort-of-pathetic guy - not too far removed from the likes of George Michael Bluth, although certainly more of an intellectual than the sitcom character that first made Cera a star. Anyways, Nick lives with his down-and-out, strung out, would-be cougar of a mom, played by Jean Smart, and also occasionally spends time with his dad (Steve Buscemi), who is living out his midlife crisis by shacking up with a hopelessly hot twenty-something, played by Ari Graynor. Nick is desperate for some kind of shake-up to his depressing life, and he unexpectedly gets that when he accompanies his mom and her awful boyfriend on a trip out to trailer-park land. While there, Nick has a fateful encounter with Sheeni Saunders, a self-assured new-age girl who's as intellectual and quirky as Nick - you know, the kind of character who mostly exists in movies like this one. And yet, you can't help but like Sheeni, as played by newcomer Portia Doubleday. She's the prep school rebel who brings guys like Nick to their knees. And that's exactly what she does here. Nick instantly falls for Sheeni, and she sort of leads him on and hints that a romance could, in fact, be possible between them - if only so many obstacles (distance, her pretentious, poetry-writing boyfriend) didn't stand in their way. Nick realizes that if he's ever going to win Sheeni, he needs to take some pretty drastic action. And drastic action is not really something that's in his playbook. So, desperate times, as they say ... and soon enough, Nick has invented an alternate personality - a mustachioed, cigarette-smoking persona named Francois Dillinger. Francois is basically the little red devil on Nick's shoulder telling him to do whatever it takes - however illegal and morally questionable - to get the girl of his dreams. And so geeky Nick Twisp takes a turn towards the dark side. And as you can imagine, things begin to spiral downward from there.

It's a fun plot, and I admired that the movie was willing to go very edgy and very dark. This is definitely not the typical teen flick that feels dumbed down or sanitized. Some pretty messed-up stuff happens in this movie, and there are moments that are racy, morally ambiguous, and oftentimes surprising. I think the flipside is that this very much feels like a literary adaptation. That's cool - it means that the movie has intelligent, uber-stylized dialogue, and complex characters. But it also means that there's *a lot* packed into the script. It takes a long time, for example, for the Francois personality to emerge, and even when he does, he is often overshadowed by the rest of the plot. There's enough going on in the movie that you wonder if the whole Francois thing was even necessary to the plot. As it stands, you can see how a guy like Nick could be pushed over the edge without having to explain it via a secondary personality gimmick. Similarly, there are a ton of fun characters in the film, many of whom are played by great actors. It's a shame that we don't get to explore some of them a bit more.

About those actors though, the movie really does have a phenomenal cast. The two leads - Cera and Doubleday - are both great, but it's all the great side characters, and the actors who play them, who give the movie so much of its texture and depth. Jean Smart as Nick's mom, Steve Buscemi as his dad - both pretty awesome, especially given their limited screentime. The great Fred Willard is a scene stealer as a liberal neighbor whose services Nick employs to get out of a couple of tight spots. Zach Galifianakis plays Jean Smart's redneck boyfriend, and is very funny in the role. I was also really happy to see Adhir Kalyan from Aliens In America show up as a classmate / confidante of Nick's. Kalyan was great on that underrated show, and he's very funny here, with some of the movie's best scenes and moments. Justin Long is also good as Sheeni's drug-addled older brother, and Ray Liotta is funny as a cop who takes a liking to Nick's mom. Like I said, it's a pretty amazing cast through and through, and everyone brings their A-game.

Youth In Revolt is one of those movies that unfortunately may have slipped through the cracks. I can see why - the marketing made it look like just another teen movie. But, I think fans going in expecting Superbad: The Sequel are going to be really surprised. This is a very smart, dark, quirky, and literary movie - very funny, but not in the way that you'd expect. It somewhat collapses under its own weight at various points, but still, it's one of the biggest surprises, I think, of the year so far.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, I've got A LOT more to talk about, so stay tuned ...!

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