Who's In It: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianakis
The Basics: The unfortunately-named Nick Twisp is too smart for his surroundings, too smart-mouthed for any adult within earshot, a virgin and, worst of all, a well-behaved nerd who never gets into trouble. But then he meets a girl named Sheeni who is so cool, so self-assured and so into Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Paul Belmondo that it seems like the biggest tease that was ever aimed at a hapless teenage boy. So he constructs his own version of Fight Club's Brad Pitt, an alter-ego named Francois whose job it is to make Nick be bad enough to get the girl. With Francois's help, Nick commits theft, arson and mean-spirited manipulation of the very girl he wants in order to get the sex he's dying for. Look, it works in movies...
What's The Deal: I'm going to assume that the books on which this film is based are really meaningful to the series's cult of rabid fans for more reasons than that they contain a series of wacky, explosive crimes committed in the name of getting laid. And while distilling a very long saga down to a bunch of consecutive comedy bits that look good in a trailer isn't exactly a freshly awful way to adapt a book to film, it's probably going to enrage this story's original bookstore-dwelling audience. If that's not you then a pretty funny, pretty empty, fairly irritating teen rebellion comedy awaits.
The Three Faces Of Michael Cera: Since Arrested Development we've only ever seen the one that's awkward, stammering, nerdy, frightened and funny. This time he retains the funny and nerdy but plays a guy who always has the right cutting remark on his tongue and never falters when it's time to hurl it at someone, no matter how miserable and uncertain he feels inside. And as calm, cool and cruel Francois, he's youthful selfishness taken to its logical conclusion. So if you hear that this is just Michael Cera playing a Michael Cera character, then you heard it from someone who wasn't paying quite enough attention to the movie.
The "Fairly Irritating" Part: Newcomer Portia Doubleday plays Sheeni, the object of Nick's relentless obsession. And while she gets to begin the movie as a complex counterpart to Nick, a young woman who can one-up him with her own brand of calm, cool and cruel (like when she invites him to spend the night in her boarding school dorm room and makes him sleep on the floor), with no warning her personality weakens, softening into compliance for the sake of a convenient plot resolution. Someone offscreen (sorry, make that someone offscreen with power to get their way) demanded more grand theft auto and less realistic teenagers, making for a frustrating, head-scratch-inducing final 15 minutes.
What Makes It Worth Seeing Anyway: When it's funny it's really funny, and that's mostly due to Cera's performance(s). And there are moments of aching adolescent truth about hating your parents, being self-absorbed and sexually stupid that you wish had been worked out more strongly. It had John Hughes potential but flinched at the last minute, the result of some heart-dead grown-up's meddling. If you can forgive it for that then you won't hate yourself for watching it.