One of the things that makes C.D. Payne's novel Youth in Revolt so great is that it's both a supremely fun teen-rebellion fantasy (like Catcher in the Rye only with more crossdressing!) and a hilariously sharp satire of the same. Its protagonist and narrator, Nick Twisp, is an aggrieved young intellectual aesthete—a would-be dandy in a world of dumb, ugly adults—as well as a typically horny 16-year-old. Nick is as excited by his budding sexual urges (and the hope of fulfilling them) as he is mildly appalled at the banality of it all. He harbors romantic dreams of rising above the ordinary life all around him—but first he has to go whack off.

It's the kind of self-skewering adolescent turmoil that Michael Cera was born to play, and this role is easily the most satisfying thing he's done since Arrested Development. A big part of what makes it so successful is Nick's alter ego, Francois, a Gallic bad boy invented to pursue his baser desires; on-screen, this assumed identity plays out like a benignly juvenile Fight Club, an imaginary friendship in which Francois (and his drawn-on mustache) smokes and struts around and causes all sorts of trouble while Nick watches in thrilled horror. It's a fun device, and it lets Cera get out from under his usual stammering charm to play something approximating a suave, plausibly sexual young adult.

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The object of Nick's fumbling (and Francois's smooth talking) is the dangerously precocious Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), a trailer-park Lolita who spurs Nick on to a series of increasingly criminal escapades—from infiltrating an all-girls dorm to grand theft auto—to win her affections. Standing in Nick's way are Sheeni's conservative Christian parents, her Ken-doll boyfriend Trent, and his own fucked-up family (played by an ace supporting cast including Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, and a sinisterly prim Mary Kay Place).

The film necessarily truncates the book's episodic plot—the fugitive crossdressing scheme that makes up the novel's third act flickers by in what feels like a minute—and cuts several of its colorful peripheral characters. But what does make it to the screen is admirably handled (the scene in which Nick crashes a car, setting fire to half of Berkeley, for instance, is rendered exactly as I'd imagined it); this is about as perfect an adaptation as you could hope for. recommended