Monday, January 25, 2010

Youth In Revolt

I just got back from seeing Youth In Revolt, the new Michael Cera vehicle about adolescent love and rebellion. After the break I'm embedding the trailer followed by my review.

Youth in Revolt unsuccessfully tries to be two movies at once. There are scenes that are wacky and ridiculous, and recall the style of satirical humour found in the Harold & Kumar movies. These scenes work really well, and are all featured prominently in the trailers. Often they involve Cera's character, Nick, giving up control to his alter-ego 'Francois,' and then being forced to deal with the consequences of his heinous actions.

The other half of the film, however, tries to be more akin to a serious coming-of-age drama like The 400 Blows. In these sequences the amusing veneer of fiction is suddenly and awkwardly abandoned in order to explore the horrifying realities of middle-class adolescence. Elements that are barely on the edge of perception suddenly take the foreground as the film tries to tell us how hard it is to be young in today's fractured society. Nick's parents' inability and disinterest in understanding or controlling their son becomes a brief focus of the film as both abandon him to suffer the consequences of actions they remain distanced from. It's power subject material, but in the film it seems like a mere distraction from Nick's wacky antics under the guise of Francois.

Youth In Revolt clearly makes the point that you should just be true to yourself, and uses the split-personality conceit as a way to achieve this. Francois exists as Nick's literalized fantasies, and he enables Nick to act-out in ways that he personally finds unimaginable. This makes the scenes when Francois is in control incredible for their audacity, and Nick's subsequent reactions hilarious in their complete incomprehension of the surreal circumstances. The bits in between, however, are where we see Nick dealing with real consequences for unreal comedic set-pieces. This is where Youth In Revolt breaks down, as the encroaching reality unsettles us from the humorous fantasy we are lulled into by the majority of the film. It disjoints the feel and flow of the film, and makes the whole thing seem remarkably uneven.

The film desperately strives for the balance of humour and adolescent drama found in movies like Igby Goes Down, or The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (both of which are coincidentally fantastic Kieran Culkin vehicles). A more recent example of this style is Adventureland. A key difference between Youth In Revolt and these superior films is that they don't use outlandish situations in order to achieve humour. Instead they present realistic situations that are amusing and believable, and establish understanding and sympathy between the viewer and the maturing protagonist. The lessons are subjective in their teaching but universal in their meaning, and this makes them great stories.

In Youth In Revolt there are many elements of a realistic and recognizable existence, but they are secondary to the antics of Francois. The moral seems shoehorned into the final minutes of the movie, and doesn't even ring true at that. The film purports to be an adolescent drama, but seems more like an episode of Loony-Toons.

Speaking of cartoons, another issue with Youth In Revolt is the periodic use of extremely out-of-place animated sequences. They don't seem to have much of a function, and really break the connection between the viewer and the character by literally removing him from the screen. There are animated sequences in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys which serve to visually represent the imagination of the protagonist as it plays a direct role in the story. In Youth In Revolt, however, the animated bits seem cheap and tacked-on, perhaps in order to give the film a more "homemade" feel. They did nothing for either me or my partner, who likewise felt that they showed the film to be trying too hard to be "indie." Simply having Michael Cera does not a Juno make.

In closing, Youth In Revolt was an uneven experience. Throughout most of the first half I really considered walking out, but in the end I was glad I stayed. The second half is better than the first because that is when most of the crazy antics happen. The film's best moments are when it is being completely honest in its absurdity, and these scenes seem youthful and genuine; the rest of the movie merely wants to be.

While I'm on the subject, below is a hilarious chart I recently saw on /Film detailing the way to make the perfect Michael Cera indie movie. It's horrifyingly accurate.

No comments:

Post a Comment