There’s often nothing better than a strong dark comedy. Films like “Harold and Maude,” “Heathers” and “Ghost World” offer a visually striking and intellectually narrative perception of the mind of their screenwriters and directors. A great dark comedy is rare, and it’s disappointing to see someone attempt the genre and flounder in their work. New to DVD, the Michael Cera vehicle “Youth in Revolt” is a fine example of black comedic miscarriage.
Cera stars as Nick Twisp, a lower class romanticist virgin who has been looking for “the one” his whole life. Enter Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a 16-year-old who’s into Godard and Gainsbourg and happens to be the love of Nick’s life. However, the only way he can really get her is to create a mustachioed “bad boy” alter ego named Francois Dillinger who has a penchant for blowing up cars and telling off Nick’s mother’s awful boyfriends.
There’s a good film underneath this mess of a movie, but it just missed its own point. It’s awkwardly pretentious and tries too hard to be subtle and instead just comes off as bored. Gustin Nash’s screenplay from C.D. Payne’s novel is too packed with dialogue and uninteresting narration. Nash attempts to trivialize his characters’ too-cool-for-school pretensions by having Nick say he loves Mizoguchi’s “Tokyo Story” to which Sheeni corrects him (“I think that was Ozu”), but it doesn’t exactly trivialize as it does show that the screenwriter himself may be trying to show off. It’s all superfluous writing – dialogue for dialogue’s sake. Whereas someone like Tarantino can get away with this because his long dissertations actually have a point, Nash never really finds his footing.
Michael Cera has proved in the past that he’s got some serious comedic talent but he doesn’t read his character’s story well, and when he channels Francois he plays it surprisingly flat. His portrayal of Francois is certainly something of a straying from his usual coy archetype but he really needed to prove he can do something else besides the “nice guy.” His foray into the comic book film world is coming up with his starring role in “Scott Pilgrim.” The character, again, looks too familiar – but in the hands of “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright – Cera may be forgiven. He really does need to kill this character.
Cameos by Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Jean Smart and M. Emmet Walsh are wasted on this half-baked snooze-fest. The great Fred Willard even shows up a few times, but doesn’t help in the least. The character of Sheeni is so overtly pretentious that it sometimes hurts. Doubleday plays her completely flat, and in this genre she should either be palpably honest or entirely ironic. She doesn’t even look like the kind of girl who’s ever seen “Breathless.”
A painfully bad dark comedy. Plays out in a dull, banal way. No emotion, and only a few moments of intrigue due to some unusual cinematography and some actually interesting looking animated sequences. It’s hard to care about any of the characters, most especially Nick. “Youth in Revolt” could have been a terrific jumping off point for Cera into a whole new territory of characters, but instead starts to show he may be a one trick pony.