By Jack Rico
It’s only the second week of January, but already Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta’s ‘Youth in Revolt’ is my favorite film of the year. The premise is simple – boy meets girl, girl meets boy and boy wrecks two cars and goes to jail for his love. But what is most appealing and absorbing is the sophisticated english dialogue written by Gustin Nash, based on C.D Payne’s – Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp. Michael Cera could not have been more perfectly casted as the intellectual, Frank Sinatra loving, sardonic virgin teen who comes from heavily dysfunctional parents.
The film revolves around the life of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) – a unique, but affable teen with a taste for the finer things in life. He 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 on a path of destruction with unpredictable and uproarious consequences.
It is very rare nowadays to see films that dare to challenge young audiences with words through a high level rhetoric. We saw this template used originally by indie director/screenwriter Kevin Smith in ‘Clerks’. A total hit and a great way to pick up the dictionary and see how many ways you can say “let’s have sex” to a girl. This was also part of the success behind the creative strategy that screenwriter Kevin Richardson used for his television series Dawson’s Creek in the late 90’s. I personally love this take on a teen romantic film – ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,’ also with Cera, played with this notion to a degree as well.
The other layer that I thoroughly enjoyed is the worldly and sophisticated tastes that the two protagonists shared in music, film and poetry. Cera loves Sinatra (the first frame opens up with the 1960 album Nice ‘n’ Easy), and he invokes Fellini’s masterpiece ‘La Strada’ in a DVD store as he tries to explain it to a girl he is trying to pick up. Ms. Doubleday loves french standards from Serge Gainsbourg and has an infatuation with New Wave french actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, in particular his breakthrough film ‘Breathless’ from Jean-Luc Godard. It’s this and other highbrow idiosyncrasies that seduced me from the onset.
What didn’t seem to mix well was the roguish alter-ego of Cera’s character Francois, as well as some of the casts contributions. One highlight was that of South African actor Adhir Kalyan, who played Cera’s lascivious friend. Very funny scenes! Does today’s youth really think and act like this today? No, but one hopes it inculcates a desire to explore the arts and culture side of them.
From a Hispanic perspective, it is wonderful to know that a born talent from Puerto Rico directed this film. There is a scarcity of great movies coming from ‘La Isla del Encanto’ these days. Arteta is perhaps more of an American in culture than Puerto Rican, but nevertheless, it is gratifying to hear the sound of a Latino last name next to a good work such as this and his previous (The Good Girl, Star Maps). Actually the last good film I saw come out of Puerto Rico was ‘Maldeamores’ directed by Carlos Ruiz Ruiz. It’s a Woody Allenesque romantic tale with a caribbean twist. A definite DVD rental this weekend.
For those who like teen romantic comedies ‘Youth in Revolt’ is a very enjoyable film peppered with laugh out loud moments. It is rated R so be warned that the sexuality is a bit vulgar and strong.