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Michael Cera has definitely needed a movie like Youth in Revolt for a while now. He still keeps his standard Michael Cera role, uncomfortable teenager with difficulties expressing and asserting himself, but the movie gives him another element to play with to flesh out that character, and he brings more to it with the script’s freedom.

The only child of a broken home, Cera lives with his mother (Jean Smart), who seemingly cannot function without a man in her life, that slot currently filled by sponge, used car selling live-in boyfriend Zach Galiafinakis. He takes Cera and Smart on a trip to a trailer park to escape a bad business deal, where Cera meets dream girl Portia Doubleday. The smothered daughter of ultra-conservative Christian parents, she inspires Cera to such lows of desperation that he creates a French bad boy persona for himself, a la Tyler Durden, which pushes him to do the things he would find otherwise unconscionable. Like be French and smoke a lot and generally act like a sociopath bastard.

The result of an improbable series of gambles lands Cera back in the small town his girlfriend calls home, under the roof of cheapskate father Steve Buscemi and his far-too-young-girlfriend. From here, in repeated efforts to impress and hold onto her, Cera sinks lower and lower, and deeper into his alter ego, Francois. Judging by the trailers I assumed that Cera actually changes his appearance but this is not the case. Francois is solely imaginary, a manifestation of Id to chide Cera’s weakness. He manages to do some pretty dastardly, and very un-Michael-Cera-like things to almost everyone. It all comes crashing down in the final act, of course, but it’s entertaining on the drop.

The movie nearly lost me in the early going with the meeting between Doubleday and Cera. Both characters are so unbearably goddamn precious it almost turns your stomach. They talk about mostly her interests in French culture and moving to France. It’s high school twaddle that becomes more relevant as Cera meets more of her backwater family. Cera, especially as Francois, works effectively at grappling with his inner pussy and conquering his fears. It’s his best stuff since he established the character of George Michael Cera some years back.

One thing in the film that breaks up some of the airs put on early is frequent use of animation. Such tedious scenes as Galafianakis driving the family to the “vacation house” are covered by short bits of an overstuffed animated convertible with representations of the characters traveling over a three dimensional map. It’s nicely done and really adds a lot to making the film less affected than the early characterization would lead one to believe.

The main theme of the film is, of course, escape from the powerless years of high school, when you’re old enough to realize how fucked your life is yet still in no position to do anything about it. From Cera watching Galafianakis take his mother into the bedroom and being unable to tune out their uncomfortably loud congress to Doubleday’s Fred Phelps-like (he’s even a lawyer), caustic, Bible-thumping father controlling her every action and life decision. But from their rocky, pretentious start, they and the film manage to build two characters whom you can understand in their desperation for relief, comfort and stability in their jailbreak from their lives. 3 ½ stars

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