Nick Twisp (Cera) is a 16-year-old who feels out of sync with the world. He has a summer job in a caravan park, where he instantly falls in love with Sheeni (Doubleday), the fiercely protected daughter of religious nutcases (Walsh and Place). Sheeni is like a female version of him, only sexy and smarter, and he creates an imaginary alter ego named Francois Dillinger to give him the confidence to seduce her. But of course things go wrong from the start.
Five years ago, Cera would have been the right age to play this character, and the film might have even felt fresh and funny. But after Juno, Superbad, Nick and Norah and even Paper Heart, Cera has worn out this character. No matter how disarmingly cute he is, this script's snarky dialog feels coldly calculated, leaving us completely uninvolved in Nick's internal adventure.
So it's the characters around him who provide most of the interest here: Smart and Buscemi as his self-absorbed parents, Galifianakis and Graynor as their hapless new partners, Kalyan as Nick's girl-crazy pal, Liotta as a bent cop and Long as Sheeni's rebel brother. But despite some nice acting subtext, even these people feel cartoonish thanks to one-note characterisations and too-astute dialog. Essentially, Nash's script is playing with surfaces here, only rarely touching on something that feels like an emotion.
Arteta's direction is similarly preoccupied with wacky touches, from inventively animated sequences to zany capers like the one at Sheeni's boarding school. Sure, there are some terrific touches along the way, and the film is shot with a lovely sense of colour and texture. Arteta has a way with a camera that makes his films refreshingly unlike most over-lit, bland Hollywood movies, and he even manages to make the most of this story's meandering structure. But when the film's only message seems to be that we need to be ourselves, it ironically feels like maybe he's sold out after all.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th January 2010
Box Office USA: $15.2M
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Production compaines: Dimension Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 107 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Miguel Arteta
Producer: David Permut
Screenwriter: Gustin Nash
Starring: Michael Cera as Nick Twisp, Zach Galifianakis as Jerry, Justin Long as Paul Saunders, Ray Liotta as Lance Wescott, Steve Buscemi as George Twisp, Ari Graynor as Lacey, Portia Doubleday as Sheeni Saunders, Rooney Mara as Taggarty, Erik Knudsen as Lefty, Adhir Kalyan as Vijay Joshi, Fred Willard as Mr. Ferguson, Jade Fusco as Bernice Lynch, Lise Lacasse as Matron, M. Emmet Walsh as Mr. Saunders, Mary Kay Place as Mrs. Saunders, Jonathan B. Wright as Trent
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