Let me start off by stating my criteria for this review. I have NOT seen a movie with Michael Cera as the starring role. Also, I have NOT read the book Youth In Revolt. So needless to say I went into this film not expecting anything. After seeing the film and finding out things about the book, I want to tell those fans of the book that this is not a 100% faithful adaptation. There are many characters that are left out, as well as plot points. The story of Nick Twisp centers around one thing and one thing only, Sheeni Saunders.
The basic plot is that Nick has a terrible life, his parents are divorced and each are with partners of a questionable accord. He is also at the age of his life where sex is on an unreachable pedestal. His mom's boyfriend Jerry takes Nick and his mom up to a Ukiah trailer park to escape getting his ass kicked. Nick soon meets Sheeni and young romance blossoms. Soon you find out that Sheeni isn't all that she seems to be and Nick starts resorting to doing terrible things to gain her affections. Nick even creates an alter ego named Francois that "does his bad things for him". Nick does whatever he can just to see her. Even when his actions come back and bite him in the ass, he does whatever he can to guarantee seeing Sheeni.
I personally really enjoyed the film. Every single character in the film gave the immediate impression of what they were like, with or without Nick's narration. Even though there are character exclusions, each character that is included is there for a reason. Nick's best friend "Lefty" serves a few great purposes, but is in the movie for less than ten minutes. When Sheeni's brother Paul, played by Justin Long, says his first line, I new exactly what he was about and accepted him immediately as a person. Long's character plays an integral part in moving the story along but again isn't in the film too long. This is by no means an ensemble cast, but it's the closest thing to it you can get.
This movie would mean nothing without a convincing Sheeni. I must say they did a great job casting Portia Doubleday. She is a relatively unknown actress, this being her first mainstream feature film. The thing that I enjoyed the most were her eyes. She has seductive eyes that would make any guy do anything and believe anything she said. There are points in the film where you love her and parts where you hate her, especially when the name "Trent" is spoken. Trent is highly mentioned and seen twice, and he is definitely everything he is built up to be. As soon as I saw him I wanted to kick his ass because of how much it would help Nick as well as just because of what he represents.
Zack Galifinakis plays the first boyfriend we meet of his mother Estelle, Jerry, and does it in a way that I didn't think he could. I have never seen Zack do anything that isn't genuinely funny and a little twisted, but this is a very welcome change and I hope it opens doors for him. Ray Liotta plays officer Lance Wescott, the second boyfriend we meet. (No Wally Rumpkin appearance, book fans) Ray does a good job, but his eyelashes took me out of it. It really made me notice that he looks like he's wearing eye make-up all the time. The last of the smaller characters I'll talk about is Nick's neighbor Mr. Ferguson, played by Fred Willard. I love Fred Willard's work and it's very good to see him act like a real human being as opposed to the silly joker he's played in most of his recent work. He acts more like a father to Nick than Mr. Twisp does, despite not being in the film too much.
I really only had one gripe with the film, a lot of the scenes sounded like a book. There is very intelligent dialogue that requires a certain elevated understanding of vocabulary all throughout the film. The problem was that a good number of it was said a little cold. Wilder mentioned in his preview that the character of Nick Twisp is very charismatic. He is indeed very charismatic in his actions, but is soft spoken most of the time. He didn't come off as a reject that no one can love, but as a regular (and I use that term loosely) adolescent, mid-teen guy who behaves like he does because he feels it's the right thing to do. I think that this made the dichotomy between Nick and his alter ego Francois even more compelling.
I haven't been completely engrossed by a film since The Dark Knight. Michael Cera is definitely on his way to becoming Hollywood elite and I hope he takes Portia Doubleday with him. This is a must see when it comes out February 20, 2009. For all of you book fans, as with any film based on a book, you will most likely not get everything you want. This is definitely a "Spark Notes", but I hope you enjoy it.