Youth in Revolt‘s premise is a familiar one, with some unexpected twists along the way; (virginal, sweet, innocent Nick Twisp) boy meets (flaxen haired, ivory skinned, sexy, intelligent Francophile Sheeni Saunders) girl, boy falls for girl, girl plays with boy but has a much sexier/intelligent/athletic/accomplished boyfriend (who now of course becomes boy’s arch-nemesis by default), girl’s parents hate virginal sweet boy and prevent him from seeing girl, boy decides to fight for girl. By becoming bad. Very, very bad.
The rest of the plot is ridiculously complicated, but at the same time suprisingly believable for a love-struck teenage boy. But.. a lot of it was very… cringe inducing, not to say problematic and fucked up. Nick really wants to get the girl (or is it sex? sometimes the viewer is not quite sure), and goes to absurd lengths in his attempts to do so, including emotionally harassing his mother after her boyfriend dies, stealing and destroying vehicles, faking his own death, and last (but definitely least charming) lying to and emotionally manipulating not one, but two girls, including even drugging one of them.
But! The film is still worth critiquing. So let’s fast forward a bit through the film for the two things that really bothered me about Youth in Revolt. Nick has made his life at home with his mother toxic to the point that she sends him to live with his father, which suits Nick just fine because it is where Sheeni lives and goes to school. But! Turns out Sheeni’s parents have sent her to private school a few hours away. Bummer.
The only friend he makes at her former/his new high school is Vijay: smart, funny, and just as sexually frustrated as Nick is. Vijay “borrows” his grandmother’s car so they can go and visit Nick’s girlfriend and sexy roommate at Sexy French School. However, we don’t ever really understand why they are friends, other than for Nick to use him to get to Sheeni. We even make a joke about his being brown by insinuating illegal immigrant status (which, honestly, could be interpreted in one of two ways; one being racist and the other being a jab at dumb white people with a saviour complex). Sadly, this scene makes it seem as though since Harold & Kumar was successful, now all of these zany teenage comedies get a free pass for not giving any of the people of colour in their scripts any depth! Youth in Revolt would have been a far better film if his sidekick was actually a friends, as opposed to being the only person of colour in the entire film, used as a boring plot device.
Secondly, there is this “alternative” girl who also studies at Sheeni’s Sexy French School whom Nick meets after she vomits in the bathroom. Nick decides to use this girl to start rumours about Sheeni’s boyfriend through flattery, banking on the fact that it’s insinuated that she suffers from an eating disorder, and is “alternative,” hence, is probably not used to male attention and of course desires it. Everything about his interactions with this character and her portrayal in the film, are just over the top messed up. To me, she seemed much more interesting and complex than Sheeni. And of course, Nick never considers her as anything other than someone he can use on his path to Get the Girl TM. And the Girl TM is the perfect rich white blonde girl… (but to be honest this is probably just me projecting my teenage insecure underdog feelings on the dirty scuzzy kind of punk kid instead).
In the end, what really got my goat me about this movie is that Nick is really an emotionally abusive asshole who gets everything he wants… and we’re supposed to LIKE him. And we kind of do! I kind of did! The movie was funny, it made me laugh, it was unexpected… but it was also pretty fucked up in many, many ways!
It is not without its redeeming qualities, though. One thing I did really like about the film is that Sheeni has Nick in the palm of her hand. She is the one who decides whether or not she is inclined to his affections, she is the one who is frank and honest and whether they are a couple or not, deciding whether or not they have sex. Sadly, that is something we see far too rarely in movies.
However, this refreshing dialogue of consent, agency and power on the part of Sheeni is not nearly enough to redeem this film from its other faults. Of the six female characters in this film, she is the only one treated with a shred of decency and respect. There are too many (ridiculously underutilized! and superbly acted!) side characters, which makes it feel fast-paced and entertaining, but the viewer just wants to spend more time with the funniest ones and kick Nick out of the way. Even François, his fictional alter ego, becomes someone we’d rather have around! There are too many loose ends by the time the film reaches its flimsy end, and there are too many problematic gender politics at play for me to wholeheartedly endorse Youth in Revolt. Part of me wonders if the fact that it instilled such vehement reprehension for the main character means the film was successful in its attempts at engaging the viewer in the story… which is what leads to me giving this memorable film a 2.5 as opposed to a 0. 2.5/5