Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Youth in Revolt: A Review

Joe and I watched Youth in Revolt last night. He had seen it before without me, but as usual the pickings were slim at the old video store, so he was willing to watch it again. Overall, I liked it pretty well. But I had a significant gripe with it that I have had with a few other movies in the past.

I'm not about to launch into a major diatribe about the portrayal of female characters in film, though there are a lot of problems with how Hollywood (and this movie in particular) writes for women. Actually, in this case I think the one short-changed is Michael Cera's character, the nice guy who gets the girl in the end (though he states at the beginning of the movie the nice guy doesn't get the girl, and he is only successful by route of a pretty significant "bad boy" phase). In the end, the movie seems to proselytize that, in order to win one's love, you should just be yourself, yet without the crazy and illegal shenanigans Nick (Cera's character) pulls, the movie makes abundantly clear his "girlfriend" would have lost interest after their first makeout session. 

Which brings us to the biggest issue I have with Youth in Revolt--Nick's interst in Sheeni, the female lead. A throw-away narration shortly after Nick meets Sheeni tries to explain his interest in her (something about being mischievous, interesting...can't really recall all of it), but every bit of storyline supports a very different conclusion. Sheeni is the first girl to ever pay attention to nerdy virgin Nick, and the second day they know each other she has him straddling her and applying sunscreen to her bikini-clad body. (BTW, I just realized how much I hate the phrase "bikini-clad.") She flirts heavily and invites his interest, but as soon as he sweetly tries to hold her hand she acts as if offended that he would be so presumptuous. She promptly imforms him she has a boyfriend, whose many talents and good qualities she lists in a plain attempt to belittle him. But the next thing we know she inexplicably jumps into a fling with him he believes to be genuine and she regards as little more than "having fun." I'll spare you the detailed full-length movie synopsis, as you can pretty much get the dynamic from what I've said so far.

The problem is that Nick's interest in Sheeni is rooted solely in two factors: 1. She is pretty. 2. She pays attention to him once or twice, and makes out with him. Unfortunately, she also toys with his emotions, feigns any true interest, forgetting promptly about him when he moves away from her, strings him along by acting interested when he contacts her but makes no effort to maintain contact or any semblance of a romantic relationship (though he commits numerous criminal acts to try and be close to her). It is a frustrating example that encourages guys to go after girls that treat them like crap, and implies that selfish, manipulative, but pretty girls are what guys really want, so too bad if you're nice and/or only semi-attractive. The whole idea that a male character who finds a woman attractive should hang on and do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get with her no matter how many interesting, also pretty, and compatible prospects he has access to. It's the same problem I have with The Notebook, Crazy/Beautiful, and A Knight's Tale, to give a few examples. It even comes into play in Twilight in a gender-reversal form, (though in Edward and Bella's case they are both inordinately obsessed with each other after negligible time knowing each other), where Bella chooses Edward, though no reason is really ever given besides that he is attractive. When Edward leaves her, she slowly, healthily, and over time, develops a friendship with Jacob that starts to veer toward romantic, which would have resulted in a relationship with a strong foundation based on real compatibility. When Edward returns, she kicks Jacob the the curb without a second thought and goes back to Edward. 

Blech. I can't believe I just ended up talking about Twilight. I tried to read those books and only got through the first two. Please understand that my endorsement of Jacob is tenuous at best, since neither of them should be interested in Bella. If you like those books, I hope you're not offended. I realize I'm treading on dangerous territory criticizing the Stephenie Meyer juggernaut, and if you have a valid reason to disagree with my stance that's fine. More than likely, though, you just enjoy the stories and aren't interested in any kind of cultural or gender-based analysis.

So anyway, back to Youth in Revolt. I don't mean come off as overly-negative in my opinion, since I did enjoy the movie. I just wish that the object of Nick's interest could have been an active participant in his affection, and a co-conspirator in his attempt to make their relationship successful. As written, her commitment to and acceptance of Nick in the end seems completely out of character and unlikely to last instead of the romantic culmination of a genuine love story.

Now here's two pictures of me:

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