While his trailer trash parents teeter on the edge of divorce, Nick Twisp sets his sights on dream girl Sheeni Saunders, hoping that she'll be the one to take away his virginity.
Michael Cera plays a type. We all know it. He excels at playing a shy, sweet, slightly geeky teen; he has it down to an art. Cera often plays against a cruder, more confident counterpart, their brashness allowing his character’s inherent niceness to shine through. In many ways this film is no different. In Nick Twisp we see Cera as we always see him, a quiet, bookish, awkwardly well meaning virgin who over-thinks every situation and never gets the girl. Nick is a character we can all recognise and relate too, he is inoffensive without being bland, sweet without being saccharine, just like everyone Cera has ever played. Twisp’s counterpart and the source of much of the films humour is Francois Dillinger, a smooth talking, chain smoking, moustachioed playboy who can talk himself out of any trouble and in to any girl’s pants. The genius of the film is that Dillinger is also played by Cera, as you’ve never seen him before.
The story is pretty generic teen fare, boy meets girl, they have a summer fling, he has to leave then tries to get her back, but the writing, the casting and the performances elevate it to something altogether more interesting. After being forced to leave his lady love, Sheeni (played to coquettish perfection by Portia Doubleday, in her first major film role); Nick crafts a plan to get his dad a job in her home town, then get kicked out by his mum so he has to move there too. To achieve this he has to be bad. To this end he creates Francois Dillinger, his own personal Tyler Durden, and sets out to win his woman and lose his virginity. The scenes with Twisp and Dillinger together are hilarious. The dialogue (Dillinger: “I’m gonna wrap your legs around my head and wear you like the crown you are.” Twisp: “If that’s OK with you.”) and the interaction between the two sides of the same personality plumbs a comedic goldmine of awkwardness. The best thing about Dillinger is that for all his white trousers, moustache, creepy blue contact lenses and bad boy attitude, he is clearly the creation of Twisp’s imagination and, as such, he’s still just not that cool. This lends the film a touching irony, since the coolest guy imaginable would still get beaten up on most playgrounds.
With a stellar supporting cast including Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Long, as well as a stand out turn from Fred Willard, the king of improv comedy, there are plenty of laughs on offer, and the central performances are engaging enough that you actually care about the vaguely ridiculous plot. There are some adorable and eye-catching animations reminiscent of Eagle vs. Shark which lend the film a further sense of childish playfulness and, while it is not in the same league as Juno or Superbad, there is enough here to keep any audience interested. Not a deeply memorable film but one with a lot of heart as well as humour and which will, I am sure, gain a passionate following within the shy, sweet, awkward teen market.