Dir. Miguel Arteta

Stars Michael Cera & Portia Doubleday

So you think you know Michael Cera?  Romantic, put-upon, socially awkward teenager from Arrested Development and Superbad and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?  Turns out you’re only half right.  With a little help from a French alter-ego, Cera turns in the performance of his short career.

Youth in Revolt is the newest in that newest of genres; the indie rom-com (think 500 Days of Summer) and it is easily the best yet.  The film rattles along predictably as Nick Twisp (Cera) meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) but finds himself torn away from her.  Determined to do anything to be with her he takes the decision to go bad.  And bad is good as far as we’re concerned.  In steps alter-ego Francoise who will stop short of nothing to get the girl – arson, theft, drugging, you name it and he’ll do it.

Francoise’s introduction brings darkness to the film that jolts the viewer from the usual rom-com mindset.  His relationship with Nick is surreal yet delicate, the two are brothers when they fight just as when they agree.  Taking his cues from Fight Club, director Miguel Arteta oversees a more self-aware partnership.  Nick knows he needs Francoise and even supports him, while Francoise cares about Nick just enough to make him believable.

Supporting Cera’s dual role are indie kings in the form of Ray Liotta (angry policeman), Zach Galifianakis (bearded) and Steve Buscemi (teen dating dad).  Each comes with their kook factor set just right, the familiarity of their roles serving to make the central conceit all the more absurdist and effective.

Yet this isn’t just a film where the right ingredients have been assembled and just thrown together.  Nick and Sheeni’s story runs across states, religious fanatics and a French ‘prep’ school.  The pace only lets up when the warmth between the leads overrules it.  The tone only falters once, otherwise it skips between dark humour and gentle awkwardness astutely.

The result is not only a film that signposts the way for more daring directors but shows what Cera can do if he stretches himself.  We know he can do meek, but for half this film he is mean, careless and driven.   We’ve come to a crossroads; we’re shown both sides of Cera’s range and we’re asked who we want more of.  Without a doubt, that person is Francoise.