Youth in Revolt (review)

Deliver Us from “Nice Guys”

Oh, someone deliver us from boys and their self-entitlement, boys and their cluelessness, boys and their rage when male privilege fails to extend itself toward them in a manner they deem proper. If boys don’t want to live in the world that the rest of us live in, well, howdy doody, tough noogies for you. The rest of us don’t always get what we want, either. Deal with it.

And please, horny teenaged lads — please — do not heed the “advice” of movies like Youth in Revolt, which mistakes being an unappealing doormat reeking of desperation (which girls don’t like) for being a genuinely nice guy (which girls do like), and believes the remedy for this situation is to become a felonious asshole, because girls find felonious assholes irresistible.

We don’t. Except the fake girls in movies like this.
Guys, seriously: Girls think it’s weird and creepy and wildly inappropriate when you tell them, five minutes after meeting them, that you love them, as Michael Cera’s (Year One, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) doofus high-schooler Nick Twisp does here. Girls are not charmed by the passive-aggressive excuse for your misdeeds that “everything [you] did was for her,” as Nick tells the cool, beautiful girl he’s infatuated with, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Girls are generally not attracted to boys who entirely subsume their own personality by insisting that “[you] want what [she] wants.”

Except in ridiculous movies like this one, which appears not to hope that you will take it as satire but as merely a comedy with a slightly heightened sense of reality. Nick’s penchant for destroying automobiles, for instance, could have taken on some extra mocking oomph, perhaps as a commentary on acquisition and status symbols, but there’s nothing so witty going on here: it’s all just shit blowing up. It probably wouldn’t have been very effective as satire anyway — director Miguel Arteta appears to have forgotten that he once made a couple of pointed, truly oddball movies in The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck — though it might be less distasteful. Because the world really is full of boys like Nick — cute enough, but hardly, you know, Zac Efron or anything, and neither suave nor rich nor overly endowed with anything that boys like Nick think girls want in a boy — who all believe they nevertheless deserve to have the hottest girlfriend ever. For Nick, it’s just a coincidental bonus that Sheeni happens to share some of his outre interests, like classic pop music and foreign movies; he’d already fallen in love with her at first sight. Because she’s, you know, hot.

Perhaps the series of popular young-adult novels by C.D. Payne [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] upon which this yawner of an adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy is based is more daring than the movie scriptwriter Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett) wrung out of it. The gimmick, sorry as it is, of Nick’s alter ego taking the persona of “Francois Dillinger” is laughable, and not in the way it’s meant to be: Cera is a sweet presence, as always, but if he’s got even the slender dangerous streak a conceit like Francois requires to be effective onscreen, there’s no evidence of it here. Slapping a skinny moustache on Cera and letting a cigarette dangle from his lips ain’t doin’ it.

There’s nothing daring here, though someone clearly thinks there is, and conforming to conventional stereotypes about love and sex does not a “revolt” make. If only it held boneheaded notions of romance and relationships cherished by so many teens (and grownups!) up for the ridicule they so richly deserve, it might have been tolerable. But instead it reinforces them, to a depressingly predictable end.

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