Youth in Revolt is the story of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a unique, but affable teen with a taste for the finer things in life like Sinatra and Fellini who falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful, free-spirited Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) while on a family vacation. But family, geography and jealous ex-lovers conspire to keep these two apart. With Sheeni's encouragement, Nick abandons his dull, predictable life and develops a rebellious alter ego: Francois. With his ascot, his moustache and his cigarette, Francois will stop at nothing to be with Sheeni, and leads Nick Twisp on a path of destruction with unpredictable and uproarious consequences.

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13 Aug 2010 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2010 - 12:00 AM

2.5
Adaptation never gels as a wholly satisfying film.

By all accounts, Miguel Arteta’s adaptation of the CD Payne’s 'Journals of Nick Twisp’ series of books pleased the fans, most of whom apparently felt the fiercely idiosyncratic works were too rich in character and eccentricity to work as a Hollywood film.

Arteta captured the stifling sense of stillness that small-town America inflicts on its misplaced dreamers in 2002’s The Good Girl (still Jennifer Aniston’s best movie), so he seemed a good choice to tell the story of a young virgin who invents a soulless, mischievous alter-ego named Francois Dillinger to help him escape the drudgery of his everyday life. As Nick/Francois, the casting of Michael Cera was also inspired – he championed for the part, having been a Twisp/Payne devotee for many years.

So the fans of Payne’s books are happy, and they have every right to be. Arteta does have a terrific handle on the literate world of Twisp, his dream girl Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) and the sad, sick, well-cast adults that unknowingly combine to make his life miserable (Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianikis, Jean Smart, Fred Willard, Steve Buscemi, Mary Kay Place and Justin Long).

But Arteta’s faithfulness to Payne’s text, themes and visions never gel as a wholly satisfying film. The film sags when Cera is not interacting with his Francois-inspired dark side, so ineffectual is he in the part of Nick (a character who, as the opening shot of the film suggests, is actually a bit of a wanker); a terrific scene in a French-themed boarding school is countered by a terrible scene involving magic-mushrooms and Sheeni’s parents; stabs at (relatively) mainstream comedy (a dumb suicide attempt or the over-staged destruction of Nick’s hometown by his own hand) are handled awkwardly.

Youth in Revolt bypassed Australian cinemas, which raised the shackles of many local supporters of Payne’s books. But its exhibition shut-out is not too hard to fathom – the imbalance between the weird and the wonderful, the end result floating somewhere between Hunter S. Thompson, Catcher in the Rye and Napoleon Dynamite, would have been a really tough sell to local audiences. It will no doubt secure its own cult following for that very reason, but its smugness, posey teen-angst grumblings and cast of caricatures make it a damn-near impossible film to like.

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Thu, 07/22/2010 - 11

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