Youth in Revolt (2009)

It’s weird to read C.D. Payne’s novel Youth in Revolt for the first time when you’re over thirty. Perhaps maybe even made weirder still by the fact that I’m a woman, and Youth in Revolt is very much the story of a teenaged boy so horny he will go to unimaginable lengths to lose his virginity. Even so, I found the novel laugh-out-loud funny and an absolute pleasure to read, despite the fact that every single character, particularly the hero Nick Twisp, was detestable. I usually find it difficult to enjoy a film or book in which the characters are shitty people, but in Youth in Revolt they’re more caricatures of puberty than anything else, so I guess I let it slide.

Naturally, I was interested to see how Youth in Revolt translated to film. Q advised that I should wait a while until after finishing the book before watching the movie, so I wouldn’t be so upset about large swaths of the plot being altered or cut out. I think in the end it was about a month or two after reading that we finally sat down and watched it. Perhaps I should have waited longer!

Meet Nick Twisp. He is as unsure about you as you are about him.

Meet Nick Twisp. He is as unsure about you as you are about him.

Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) has been dealt a lackluster hand in life; his mother (Jean Smart) and father (Steve Buscemi) have divorced, and neither of them seems particularly fond of Nick. He’s currently living with his mother, who is dating a trucker named Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). They are classless, especially to Nick, who enjoys literature and Frank Sinatra. How did he, a truly cultured individual, end up with such trashy parents? A question that has no easy answer, but he asks himself with increasing frequency, especially after he accompanies Mom and Jerry to beautiful Ukiah, CA, where Jerry’s friend has granted them access to his… trailer. Watching Jerry chug cheap beer at the breakfast table, Nick wonders if he could possibly have a worse summer ahead of him.

But there is a bright shining light in that trailer park, and her name is Sheeni Saunders. She is a true intellectual, a beauty with taste and, unfortunately for Nick, a seemingly perfect boyfriend named Trent. Despite Trent, Sheeni and Nick spend a wonderful week together, and begin to plot a way that Nick can escape his mother’s house in Oakland, CA, get his father a new job in Ukiah, and convince him that it’s a great idea for Nick to move in with him. Sheeni insists the only way to get this done is for Nick to be bad. Very, very bad.

See Nick nervously apply sunscreen to Sheeni's exposed back.

See Nick nervously apply sunscreen to Sheeni’s exposed back.

It’s at this time that Nick cultivates an alter-ego; the boy may dream big, but in order to get the girl he wants, he’s going to have to do more than just dream. Enter Francois (Michael Cera in a mustache), who helps Nick commit various crimes such as theft and arson, all while reminding him that the ends indeed justify the means, especially if the end is losing your virginity to Sheeni Saunders.

This movie is really enjoyable and fun to watch. It will make you laugh, no doubt about it, so long as you’re not one of those people that doesn’t like Michael Cera. If you are, obviously, don’t watch this. Just like almost everything else I’ve seen Cera in, he’s very much, well, like Michael Cera. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of versatility in his acting abilities, but that’s okay, it works to the film’s advantage in this case. As far as the film missing some of the best parts of the book, I get that; there is so much going on in the book, the only way to capture all of it would have been a mini-series. Hmm, that actually sounds like a great idea, now that I mention it…

The real trouble I had with this movie is that it made Nick, and even some of the other characters, likable. In essence, they took a handful of plot-points and scenes from the book and recreated them here with completely different people, and frankly I was kind of bothered by that. The novel is totally outrageous, and Nick and his friends do some pert-near unforgivable things to get laid, but in the film everything is taken down about 10 notches. Mom’s boyfriends aren’t nearly as bad as they are in the book. Dad barely lives up to his asshole label; in fact he’s barely seen in the film, which is kind of a bummer because I like Buscemi quite a bit. But really the worst part is that, by the end of this movie, I was quite fond of the character Nick Twisp. I was cheering for him. In the book, I hated the kid and I wanted him to finally get his in the end!

And see Francois, not taking 'no' for an answer.

And see Francois, not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

I’ve been asking myself why the filmmakers would have chosen to water the book down so much, and I guess the answer is the same answer you always get from Hollywood; mass appeal. People love finding offense anywhere they can, and film studios certainly don’t want to be the target of the public’s vitriol. But am I crazy to think that there wouldn’t be a market for a film about a shitty kid who will do anything in his power to get laid? I don’t think so, but hell, that’s just me, what do I know? Perhaps I could have gotten the movie I wanted if John Waters had directed it. I know it’s hard to please everyone, and people who read books that are turned into movies are rarely pleased with the outcome. I just think here the whole point of the book is lost. By making Nick a regular, rather likable guy instead of this little asshole with so many secrets he can barely keep them straight the whole tone is changed. What I liked about the book Youth in Revolt is it didn’t fool its audience into believing that good guys will always get the girl in the end. Quite the opposite, in fact: you have to be bad enough, and good enough at being bad, to really get what you want out of life. In the film, it’s just another good guy with a happy ending, and that’s just disappointing and boring.


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