'Youth in Revolt' sticks with failing formula

Adolescence is a period in life filled with unrelenting change, both physically and psychologically. It could be argued that at no other time in our lives will we live with as much intensity or be so completely engaged in ourselves and those around us.

Teenagers can be trendy, shallow, self-absorbed and intensely idealistic and even caring. Contradictory emotions can cohabit nicely and not seem mutually exclusive. Friendships flourish and then quickly die. Identities are sampled and discarded. It often feels as if the center will not hold; however, that too will pass.

In other words, this period is endlessly rich in material. And it continues to be a surprise that the screenwriters who write about young people on the cusp of becoming adults often seem clueless, as if they've lost touch with the panoply of issues that dominate this period. When confronted with the complexity of adolescence, they almost reflexively reach for clichés and stereotypes.

The just released "Youth in Revolt" is an example of filmmakers settling for nonsense and silliness instead of probing, in a thoughtful and insightful way, teen angst. Or teen-geek angst. Or teen-geek-sexuality angst. There's substance to be found (and comedy), and it's too often ignored.

If you are making a movie about a 16-year-old, one Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a resident of Oakland, Calif., then it's assumed that your audience is all of those newbie teens who see something of themselves in Nick. And it's also assumed that you want them to buy tickets, popcorn and sit down front when "Youth in Revolt" reaches their local theater. So why include in the film language, pot-smoking and simulated sex assuring an R rating and eliminating, at least in theory, all those young teenage boys and girls who gravitate toward these films?

Clearly it's possible to make compelling, funny, PG-13 films about adolescents. Case in point would be "Juno" (which Cera also starred in), which was smartly written, dealt with teen pregnancy and skipped the gratuitous and explicit dialogue that is now de rigueur. To capture the essence of what it means to be young, in love and in high school, all that's needed is a great story. "Youth in Revolt" instead falls blatantly into slapstick and the decidedly improbable.

To be clear: 'Youth in Revolt" is not set in a high school. It takes place, in great part, in a trailer park in Ukiah, Calif. Nick is sent there to live with his father (Steve Buscemi) after setting fire to half of downtown Berkeley, becoming a juvenile fugitive.

The final point would be that Cera is fast reaching that point in his acting career when his one-note, youthful, dweeb persona is wearing a bit thin, given that he is now 22. This happened to Haley Joel Osment who was brilliant in "The Sixth Sense" as a strange boy who saw dead people. But once he grew up and out of such roles, he found Hollywood a less hospitable place. As did Macaulay Culkin. Cera has reached that point.

Leap Year

A casual, almost flip way to refer to films such as "Leap Year" is "rom-com," meaning romantic comedy. And Hollywood has been making rom-coms for decades, stretching back to the 1934 Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert hit, "It Happened One Night."

It's a familiar template: a haughty, tightly wound, somewhat condescending woman meets down-to-earth guy. They discover, instantly, that they're oil and water. The tension is palatable, the disagreements minor and major — recall Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally," who take a road trip that cements the idea that they are wonderfully, comically incompatible. Or so they think.

While the narrative is not original, the examples above are testimony to the fact that screenwriters can find new and interesting ways to make this familiar theme solidly entertaining.

No doubt, to transcend what has become a cliché requires talent, beginning with a crisp screenplay and gifted actors.

"Leap Year" does have Amy Adams as Anna, the type-A, urbane, insulated New York real estate stager, wed to her Blackberry and not yet wed to her cardiologist boyfriend of four years, Jeremy, portrayed by Adam Scott.

Anna hears that Jeremy has been to a fashionable jewelry store and assumes that finally a diamond engagement ring is in the works. Instead, over dinner, as Jeremy takes call after call from the hospital, he manages to hand her a small box that screams "Will you marry me?" Instead it's diamond earrings.

Jeremy heads off to a cardiologists convention in Dublin, Ireland, and Anna, bummed, returns to her staging gig. And it's then that she learns that in Ireland, every four years, women can propose to men and she resolves to fly to Dublin and surprise Jeremy with a proposal.

And so the adventure begins. The journey to Dublin will not be a straight line, of course. A storm has closed airports, no buses are running, and so on, all of which brings Anna to a pub in Dingle, desperately needing a room and a ride. That's when she meets Declan (Matthew Goode), the pub's owner and, as it turns out, also the owner of the only taxi in town.

The pair start for Dublin, a trip that will severely test Anna and give Declan countless opportunities to sneer at her wardrobe and suitcase (a Louis Vuitton), her uppity New York values, and her "idjeet" idea of finding Jeremy and proposing. Along the way, Anna will be sufficiently humiliated, soaked, caked with mud and generally run through an obstacle course while constantly reminded what a disaster she is. Her designer skirt is too tight, her heels too high ($600), and she's unfailingly a klutz.

Of course, it's no surprise (actually it is) that she begins to fall in love with her tormenter, Declan, the ruddy, salt-of-the-earth Irish guy who is street-smart (well, back-roads-of-Ireland smart) and strangely attractive to Anna, much to her distress.

It's all predictable, not really fresh or smart or funny. Adams gives it her best effort throughout. "Leap Year" is her movie from the first frame. And she is a hugely talented actor. What she can't do is float a screenplay that gives her so little to work with when it comes to good dialogue and compelling scenes. Ireland is lovely to look at, however. But that's not enough reason to see this film.

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