Youth In Revolt

Youth In Revolt hit cinemas a couple of weeks ago. Based on CD Payne's 1993 novel, it's a quirky indie romantic comedy, with a reliably funny Michael Cera doing that likeable Michael Cera thing he does.
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It's diverting enough, with a great supporting cast - Fred Willard, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianakis (who is in it, though not nearly as much as the trailers selling "that guy from The Hangover" would have you believe) - but the whole affair seems kind of pointless. There's no substantial core, which is disappointing considering director Miguel Arteta is responsible for  2000's great Chuck & Buck, which exudes truth and heart for its entire 97 minutes.

The major missing link is Chuck & Buck's writer/lead actor Mike White (who, incidentally, wrote the scenes for Youth In Revolt's reshoots, which gave more prominence to Cera's evil alter ego Francois Dillinger, the best thing in the film). White began his career as a writer on Dawson's Creek and the brilliant (and underseen) Freaks And Geeks and, frustrated with what Hollywood was spewing out, wanted to write about imperfect people. This, along with his experience of the sort of person you have to be to succeed in the movie industry, resulted in his Chuck & Buck screenplay, which landed on director Miguel Arteta's desk. Arteta's advisors told him he'd be committing career suicide if he directed this twisted black comedy about an obsessive stalker, but he couldn't get it out of his head.

The film starts with Buck's (Mike White) mum coughing to death. At the funeral, his childhood best friend Chuck (Paul Weitz) turns up. Chuck's now a smooth record exec, living the LA dream with his pretty fiance, while Buck, who, at 26, never moved away from his parents' house, is now an odd, awkward man-child. With his mum gone, Buck promptly ups sticks and moves to LA, for no other reason than to become Chuck's best friend again. Unfortunately Chuck has no such desire and does his best to avoid him, resulting in Buck basically stalking him and unwittingly making his life uncomfortable by turning up at his office and parties and just being a bit weird. In an attempt to convince Chuck to see the light, Buck stages an amateur production of a play he's written about two best friends called Hank And Frank, whose idyllic relationship is ruined by a wicked witch. "I think you have something weird about women", the play's director says when she reads Buck's script. "I think you have something weird about men."

Buck is a man-child, but not in the broad Will Ferrell sense - although it's funny, the film is played straight, and while Buck has sexual yearnings for Chuck, there's a deep sadness about it all. Buck is lost, and while the nostalgic love he craves may be misplaced, it's pure. The film is a skewed but heartfelt exploration of unrequited love and rejection, and as unnerving and as stalkerish as Buck might be, you feel for him, especially in the light of Chuck's steely LA superiority, although his caution also stems from a fear of his own buried feelings. It's also clear that his comfortable cosmopolitan existence may not be all he thinks it is: everything looks great, but somewhat joyless. Buck sees it. "I know what you are", he says to Chuck's fiance. "You're like his house or his car. That's it."

Time magazine criticised the film for 'sentimentalising stalking', but it doesn't; Buck's not dangerous, and doesn't particularly have bad intentions, and the film isn't afraid to portray him as a three-dimensional person. It's both touching and twisted, as sweet as it is sad. White has since juggled a writing career consisting of broader comedies like School Of Rock and Nacho Libre with  offbeat, smaller ones like The Good Girl and Year Of The Dog (which he directed). Youth In Revolt is worth a look if you love Michael Cera, but it's distinctly unmemorable. You'll never forget Chuck & Buck.