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‘Revolt’ Shows Surprises from Cera

The easy description of "Youth in Revolt" is that it's Michal Cera as we've never seen him.

Yes, well, sort of. But it's mostly Cera as we always see him, as the wide-eyed innocent of "Arrested Development," ''Juno," ''Superbad" and wherever else he shows up.

Which is fine. Cera's good at it, and Miguel Arteta's film, based on the novel by C.D. Payne, is funny. And it does give Cera a chance to play at being a bad boy. But it's just that -- playing at it.

To explain: Nick Twisp (Cera) is a virgin and, like most teenage boys who fit that description, looking to change his status. Artistic-minded, a budding writher, he lives at home with his mom (Jean Smart), a trashy sort who depends upon child-support payments from her ex-husband (Steve Buscemi), as well as the favors of whatever boyfriend is staying in the house. As the movie starts, it's Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), but his sale of a bum car to a group of sailors necessitates a quick vacation.

At the trailer-park community they escape to, Nick meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), who has blond hair, similar tastes, a sassy-yet-flirty personality -- and a boyfriend. When his family goes back home, Nick is determined to get back to Sheeni. He's not the first, but perhaps the latest, to observe that women seem to pick the bad boys over the good, so he sets about to change his ways -- and to get himself kicked out of his mom's house.

That's where the "different" Cera comes in. Nick invents Francois Dillinger (Sheeni's into all things French), an alter-ego with a wispy mustache, a smoking habit and a more-colorful vocabulary, all of which accentuate his all-around badness. Francois leads Nick to do increasingly desperate things until, indeed, his mom and her latest boyfriend, a cop named Lance (Ray Liotta, satisfyingly low-rent), boot him. But his plan to reunite with Sheeni runs into various problems, including but not limited to her being sent to a French boarding school downstate.

The supporting cast is uniformly good, particularly the always-reliable Fred Willard as a neighbor, Justin Long as Sheeni's drug-addled brother and especially Adhir Kalyan as Vijay, Nick's friend who accompanies him on some of his (mis)adventures. But the film really relies on Cera and Doubleday. She has to make Sheeni appealing enough that Nick would upend his life for her; he has to make Nick both resourceful and confused enough (read: desperate to have sex) that he'd be willing to do so.

Good on both counts. Doubleday's Sheeni is charming, smart, pretty and has just that hint of knowing danger that drives teenage boys insane. And Cera? No one does this kind of thing better, which is presumably why he keeps doing it. Francois is funny enough, up to a point, but Cera's sure portrayal of Nick is a much bigger part of what makes "Youth In Revolt" a rewarding film.

Rated R for sexual content, language and drug use.

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