As a nearly 500-page-long exploration of the insatiable sexual urges of a 14-year-old, rife with explicit gay sex, drug use, cross-dressing, and an overflowing, oversized cast of zany supporting characters, C.D. Payne’s cult novel Youth In Revolt poses formidable obstacles for cinematic adaptation. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Miguel Arteta’s well-intentioned film version feels simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. It’s a manic, sometimes lively, sometimes lumpy mess with too many characters, too many subplots, and too much random wackiness that feels less like a proper adaptation than like a Cliffs Notes version that leaps from big moment to big moment while discarding everything between.
In a challenging dual role, Michael Cera toys with his adorably awkward man-child persona as a hormone-crazed teenager who uses his mastery of language to compensate for his fundamental powerlessness. He’s both the put-upon product of a broken home, and in his sinister alter ego, a suave, mustachioed Frenchman oozing self-confidence and callous disregard for anything but his own desires. When Cera meets the similarly hyper-verbal Portia Doubleday, he becomes obsessed with winning her at any cost, even if that entails cross-dressing, becoming willfully schizophrenic, and constantly deceiving parents and other corrupt authority figures.
Like last year’s Adventureland, Youth In Revolt is being marketed cynically as a quasi-sequel to Superbad when it’s really a broad, ambitious, agreeably wordy social satire in the vein of Terry Southern or A Confederacy Of Dunces. Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl director Arteta opts for a deadpan, unadorned style that undercuts the wackiness, but whenever the film’s tone gets away from him, Cera grounds the shenanigans with his fawn-like charm. Like its protagonist, Youth In Revolt is a little too clever and a little too willfully verbose for its own good, but it’s rare and a little wonderful to see a comedy about the sex lives of teenagers that suffers from an excess of ideas and ambition instead of a dearth.