Sometimes, the road from cult novel to cult movie is a bumpy one.
Hollywood has been struggling to get C. D. Payne’s 14-year-old antihero Nick Twisp to the big screen since the book “Youth in Revolt” was published in the early 1990s.
After an unseen TV pilot and another aborted big screen attempt, “Youth in Revolt” has finally hit theatres…and the result is a mixed bag.
Michel Cera (“Year One”) plays Nick in a self-consciously quirky adaptation by screenwriter Gustin Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”) and director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”).
The litmus test may well be one’s affinity for Cera, who essentially plays the same low-key nerd role he’s played in “Superbad”, “Juno” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.”
But here, he gets to also play Nick’s alter ego, Francois Dillinger, a rebellious voice in Nick’s head that prods him to do and say things that our meek hero would never otherwise dare.
Nick’s life is an oppressive nightmare. He lives with his trashy mom Estelle (Jean Smart from “Garden State”) and her sleazy boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifanakis from “The Hangover.”)
His neglectful dad George (Steve Buscemi from “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”) has a sexy young girlfriend and Nick’s pal Lefty (Erik Knudsen from TV’s “Jericho”) is dealing with profound sexual angst.
Things change considerably for the milquetoast Nick when he travels to a trailer park with Estelle and Jerry. There, he meets the girl of his dreams, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday from “Legend of the Mummy.”)
When Sheeni tells Nick that she’s attracted to bad boys (like Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character in “Breathless”), the influence of Nick’s “bad angel” Francois becomes profound.
To impress Sheeni, Nick indulges in a series of bizarre antisocial acts like destroying his mother’s car and her boyfriend’s trailer, setting fire to a restaurant and plunging his dad’s car into a shallow pond.
There is plenty of irreverent and raunchy humor in Nash’s screenplay that celebrates the perverse joys of anarchy.
Arteta is a gifted director who injects this subversive story with some giddy energy. The decision to add some animated sequences seems irrelevant and self-indulgent, however.
Cera has some fun with the subversive Francois character, giving him a bit of a respite from his usual nerd routine. But Nick’s other alter ego from the book (his feminine side named Carlotta) is allowed only a fleeting cameo appearance.
While it’s got its off-color charms, “Youth in Revolt” is little more than a modest coming-of-age comedy. (R) Rating: ***
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it