Thursday, February 4, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: YOUTH IN REVOLT

It was always the intent of Cinema Squared to be what the subtitle intends: a revolving film conversation between two unique viewpoints: one male, one female. Now, we usher in the new year of movies with a new resolution: to fulfill the initial purpose of this blog. Thus begins a series of "He Said, She Said" film reviews, back-and-forth discussions between passionate film critic counterparts. Our He Said, She Said series begins with one of the first films released in 2010, Youth in Revolt.

HE SAID: J McKiernan: So, K, let's talk Youth in Revolt.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: Shoot.

JM: The critical rub has been that the movie is a lame retread of all the teen raunch comedies that have been released in the past five years, but actually, this one worked for me.

KM: I could not agree more. I thought it was not just a retread but was sweet and pretty cool.

JM: The other major problem many critics have pointed out is the omnipresence of Michael Cera, but he is the reigning king of awkward young male actors, and he is once again wonderful here.

Continue reading after the jump....

KM: Cera is adorable and he is why the film works, really. Back to what you said about "teen raunch" comedies. This movie has the gumption to move past the raunch. It is tender, sweet, and I would argue innocent in spots. Probably innocent because of Cera and his portrayal, but still, I tire of all the lame attempts at pornified humor. Here, sure, there is sex and yes there is bawdy humor, but this script does not mire itself in cruelty like most of those other raunch comedies (especially the Apatow variety). Cera, by the way, is also what saved Superbad from being too cruel and sexist. His deft touch at sweet sincerity is unmistakable.

JM: To me, Youth in Revolt aligns itself more with the quiet, subtle, offbeat films of Terry Zwigoff, or even, at times, Wes Anderson. The tone is very arch, and the use of quirky animation throughout the film only enhances that quality. Youth in Revolt's characters -- led, as you said so well, by Cera's brilliantly quirky sweetness -- are very interesting comic creations. They talk about things a lot of film geeks would respond to. Forget raunch...this movie's best joke involves Cera's character, Nick Twisp, not knowing that Tokyo Story was directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

KM: Do you think the quirky animation was at all inspired by his real life or perhaps faux real life girlfriend, Charlene Yi? Or perhaps since this film was made two years ago, that Yi was inspired by the animation in Youth when she made Paper Heart?

JM: Most likely not. Yi is her own brand of performance artist, and the "animation" in Paper Heart is literally cardboard cut-outs of the characters controlled by hands. The more-complex animation photography in Youth was directed by Ivan Abel, an up-and-coming cinematographer. But Paper Heart is an interesting reference point for this movie. The tone is similar -- offbeat, sly, and mildly sad. There is a melancholic quality to Nick's loneliness in this film, even as he creates the "supplementary persona," Francois Dillinger, who perpetrates all the mayhem that people will be familiar with from the trailer. In actuality, the film is different than its trailer. Very funny, yes, but clever and introspective, too.

KM: That was my next point. I was shocked that the film had something to offer -- actually, a great deal more to offer -- besides what the trailer promised. I had seen the trailer so many times that I figured I had pretty much seen the movie, yet they played with the chronology and many surprises still lurked. You are so right about the sadness. Perhaps it is the dry, deadpan tone, but this is not a raucous film. It is sober and feels more true even in its offbeat, odd moments.

I was dismayed when I read a review in Entertainment Weekly saying it wasn't worth seeing. Lisa Schwarzbaum said, as you referenced earlier, that Cera was just too "everywhere" and that this film was too late. I think that is so wrong. Cera is perhaps my favorite in his two Nicks. Here as Nick Twisp in Youth and as Nick in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. They are his two best.

JM: Youth in Revolt really reminded me of a cross between Ghost World and Rushmore, and no, I don't say that so my quote can be pulled for placement on the back cover of the film's Blu-Ray box. Those are two of my favorite films about teenagers living in a specific moment in our rapidly changing culture, and two films with very unique and beautiful cinematic tones. I'm not gonna go overboard and say that Youth in Revolt is quite that good...but to say that it reminds me of those wonderful films is high praise indeed.

And regarding Cera, he is often charged with playing the same role over and over, but time and again he proves his extraordnary talent by tackling these roles -- that are, in all fairness, similar at first glance -- and creating vastly different characters. Sure they are all sort of awkward and sensitive and funny, but Cera alters his quirks and mannerisms and even the tone of his voice and maturity of his demeanor to make each character unique. Going back to the beginning of his career, if you compare Arrested Devlopment to Superbad to Juno to Nick and Nora to Youth in Revolt, each character is different. Each is a unique creation. All credit goes to Cera...amazing work.

KM: I never really got into Rushmore, but I can totally see what you mean about Ghost World. There is this "too-savvy-for-one's-own-good" attitude rocking in both movies. It's as if that savviness creates such loneliness and despair. Lost in a world you are not supposed to be in... or at least not so aware of.

JM: Lost in the world, struggling to find your place...absolutely. That is the very essence of Youth in Revolt. It is the reason Nick feels so inclined to invent a persona so that he can break the rules and be a rebel. He wants to win the affections of the beguiling Sheeni Saunders (played wonderfully by relative newcomer Portia Doubleday), but he feels like The Real Nick can't do in steps Francois. It is all about being lost in the world, and finding yourself...unsure that the real you is the "best" you.

KM: Yes, and that sensitivity to our human id is not what most expect walking into the film. They expect a bunch of "pussy" jokes and new ways to talk sex. But the movie is actually pretty mature. This film trounces the horribly immature, cruel Knocked Up.

JM: It's so true. There are a few sex- and drug-related moments, although what makes them funny is their surreal oddity, not the raunch. Again, this isn't about raunch at's about loneliness and identity. That is also a strand that runs throughout the work of the film's director, Miguel Arteta. I loved Arteta's two prior works, Chuck and Buck and especially The Good Girl, which are both about being unable to reconcile one's place in an ever-so-strange world. There was a seven-year gap between Good Girl and Youth, but once again Arteta announces himself as one of indie comedy's most interesting poets.

KM: Do you think that's why it was not such a "hit?" People do not want to ponder or listen to "poetry"? They just want the dirty joke?

JM: Most likely.

KM: You know...I find myself wanting to talk about the end a little bit and what Nick discovers, which is pretty enlightened and actually beautiful, but I do not want to spoil anything for anyone who happens to read this. So, how about I give a grade to summarize my thoughts? I would say Youth in Revolt earns a B+. How about you, J? What would you give it?

JM: The film's ending is very simple, and yet grandly momentous is its own wonderful way. So allow me to end this review in the same manner: my grade, like yours, is a B+.


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Anonymous said...

I was really looking forward to this film but then read the other reviews. I think after reading this I will give it another chance.

I don't know if you've got to watch Adventureland but sounds like you will enjoy that as well. Jesse Eisenberg looks like he's pushing to challenge Cera for cinemas top geek also.

Great review and look forward to the next one.

J McKiernan said...

Jesse Eisenberg is an absolutely wonderful young actor. And it is absolutely a near-tie between he and Cera for the King of Awkward Geek Heroes in modern cinema. Any film starring one of those two actors is automatically made better by their mere presence.

Oh yes, we saw Adventureland. It is one of my favorite films of 2009. So, too, is Eisenberg's other big starring role of the past year, Zombieland.

Back to the subject at hand: yes, go see Youth in Revolt. It's easy to say since the year is so young and there is never many good films in the first three months of the year, but Youth is the best film I've seen so far in 2010.

K McKiernan said...

Glad you enjoyed our chat about Revolt. It really is worth your time! Eisenberg is giving Cera a run for his geek niche, but really, no one beats Cera.

I loved Eisenberg more in Zombieland than even Adventureland. Did you see Zombieland?


Anonymous said...

No unfortunately I have not. I meant to go see that too but never got round to it. It's out on dvd in the UK in a month so might just have to get it.

I started watching Squid and the whale the other day, Jesse was good but found the film in general got a bit bogged down in doing nothing at all. Have you seen that?

J McKiernan said...

I feel confident that I can speak for K when I say that we both loved The Squid and the Whale.

Noah Baumbach, the film's writer-director, is an interesting dude. He is ever-chasing after the quirky pain exuded in the films of Wes Anderson (and indeed, Baumbach has co-written two of Anderson's films), but his edge is sometimes way too sharp. Case in point: Squid and the Whale works splendidly, but Baumbach's follow-up, Margot at the Wedding absolutely failed (all my opinion, obviously, but you get the idea).

Squid is an interesting portrait about boys in pain as they watch their pretentious parents' marriage collapse. It strikes the right balance, I found, between the anger, the heartache, and the humor. It is not everyone's cup of tea, but it is an interesting, well-made film.

Baumbach has a new film coming this spring, Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller. It will be interesting to see how his cinematic point of view unfolds.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Yeah I decided to get it after finding out he co-wrote life aquatic and fantastic mr. fox. I think I need to start watching again.

I must look up Greenberg as I haven't heard anything about that yet.