A titan of twee, young Michael Cera specializes in playing hipster Pinocchios, trapped in post-adolescent amber, desperate to break free into manhood. His character here takes that yearning for machismo to ludicrous, noisy extremes, wreaking personal havoc, social suicide and massive property damage to impress a girl.
Saddled with the Dickensian name Nick Twisp, our hero's a hyper-bright teen, painfully aware of his loser status, but too timid to do much about it. He lives in Oakland, Calif., with his floozy mom (Jean Smart) and her string of deadbeat boyfriends, until her latest scuzzy beau (Zach Galifianakis in a plum part), pulls a scam that forces them all to split town for a while. But the bum deal turns into a life-changing epiphany the moment Nick lays eyes on his pretty trailer-park neighbor Sheeni, played by the startlingly fresh-faced Portia Doubleday. She's beautiful, whip smart, and confident with a casual attitude toward sex that drives virginal Nick crazy with lust. She's a heartbreaker and he's the sap to pedestalize her, telling a nerdy pal that she's "a comely angel sent to teach me about all the good things in the world."
But she's no angel. She tells Nick she wants a bad boy, and that's what he's ready to give her. When family drama and a preppy suitor begin blocking Nick's path to his dream girl, he, for once in his pathetic life, springs into action, concocting a bizarre plan to win her back at all costs.
The ensuing chaos is hilarious. There's a subversive edge and inventive energy that lifts it over other horny teen comedies. The film's trailers made it look like some postmodern quirk parade, but there's a darkness that Cera's last flick — the feather light Paperheart — desperately needed, complete with requisite cool-kid brownie points, from Camus to Fellini to Ozu.
Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck) keeps things humming nicely and pulls really funny work from ace backups including Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard and Justin Long, who's hysterical as Sheeni's drug dealer bro.
Mostly shot on Michigan locales — from funky Ferndale to charming Frankfort to up on the Lake Michigan coast — it's refreshing to see the Mitten impersonating Cali for once. Locals will enjoy seeing both Ann Arbor and Hazel Park High School come under Cera's clumsily destructive assault.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.