Teen rebellion is always a source of great stories. From the serious minded explorations of growing up and forming your own identity like Catcher in the Rye to the…less serious minded counter-culture attitudes of The Violent Years, the idea of teens bucking adult expectations a reliable go-to metaphor for storytellers of all stripes when they want to make some sort of point about society. There’s angst, there’s rebellion, there’s sex, there’s burgeoning freedom. The only irony is that reading or watching such stories is often much more enjoyable than actually living through that period, when you feel like your parents don’t know anything and how could they possibly understand what’s going on in your head and why can’t they treat you like and adult and STOP SHOUTING AT ME JUST BECAUSE I SAID I WANTED TO TAKE THE CAR TO MEET SOME FRIENDS, MOM!!!
(hmph…sorry…where was I? Oh…right…)
Based on the 1993 book of the same name, Youth in Revolt is one of those stories. Nick Twisp (played by Michael Cera, as is required by federal statute) is a teenager with an as-yet unfulfilled life living with his single mom and her succession of loser boyfriends. Then one day Sheenie Saunders (played by Portia Doubleday) enters his life and becomes the sexual goalline toward which he’s determined to drive in order to fully become a man. But she’s got a boyfriend and considers Nick not enough of a bad boy to warrant being anything other than a friend. So he adopts a “supplementary persona” through which he’s able to commit crimes and mischief in the name of winning her heart.
The poster for the movie knows where it’s audience is going to be coming from and so clearly makes an appeal to the Michael Cera Fan Club Network. It’s just a big painting of Cera’s head, with him looking like he does just about all the time – like a young hipster heart-throb in his retro hip sweater and such. The title treatment is done here in the style of kidnapper’s ransom note, something that either is going to lend itself to the “revolution” the copy at the top of the poster refers to or to the do-it-yourself/make-media-out-of-media group that his films, especially Juno, Nick and Nora and Paper Heart have played to.
A second poster took the same image of Cera but put Doubleday behind him, looking over his shoulder with her sunglasses on and a “Be Bad” lollipop about to enter her lipsticked mouth. On this one the copy at the top is changed from “Every revolution needs a leader” to “He wasn’t a rebel until he found his cause,” which fits nicely with the addition of the object of his desire to the poster. There’s also an explosion added to the background which those who have seen the trailers will recognize but which, in the context of the poster, makes little to no sense since there’s no information about it given here.
The movie’s trailer plays up some of what I’m guessing are the film’s more comedic elements but does give a pretty good sense of the plot and what we can expect here. We start off meeting Nick, Cera’s character, and how he lives with his mom in a trailer park where she brings home a string of boyfriends. Then he meets Sheenie, a beautiful young girl he’s immediately attracted to. Despite the fact that they become friends it turns out she doesn’t have the same feelings for him he has for her. So in an effort to win her heart he creates a “supplementary persona” for himself that’s more dangerous and rebellious, an effort that has, we see, a certain amount of payoff.
It’s pretty funny and certainly puts an emphasis on Cera’s quirky charming persona. But it actually becomes that much more effective when that alternate personality comes out, something that shows the actor might have more than nervous tics in his arsenal. Particularly funny, I think, is when “Francois” throws an album at the wall and tells Nick he’s never going to get the girl by sitting around listening to records, which pretty much describes a good chunk of Cera’s filmography.
The second trailer contains quite a bit of the same footage as the first but starts off quite differently, showing off more of Nick’s fractured family – his mom with the layabout lying boyfriend and his dad with the younger sexier girlfriend – before introducing us to the girl that causes him to get down with his bad self. But many of the subsequent antics are the same in this spot, though they’re still pretty funny.
A red-band version was also released that’s pretty funny as well. It starts off differently, showing that Nick just has a problem with girls as a whole due to him being the nice guy. The main difference, though, is that there’s a lot more graphic sexuality being discussed. From an extended version of the scene where Nick applies lotion to her exposed areas that include a description of her possibly turned on as well to a longer explanation of what Nick wants to do to her in bed to footage that makes drug use more clear, it’s roughly the same in terms of timing just with those scenes made longer to include more risque elements. Unlike some red-band trailers where the more naughty stuff actually detracts from the comedy this one adds to it by showing the movie is not just funny but that there’s a more serious and raunchy tone to it.
The official website opens with an image of Cera and Doubleday that evokes, but isn’t quite, the same art using on the theatrical poster. Behind them you can scroll through a variety of backgrounds that allow you to access the same content areas that are available through the top navigation menu.
The first of those areas is “Trailer” which initially prompts you to enter your birthday so you can view the red-band trailer. If you’re not yet 17 there’s an option for you as well that will take you to the second of the all-ages spots.
“The Players,” the next section, tells us not about the actors but the characters they play, giving us a key quote from them and a brief description of who these characters are.
Next up is “How to Be Bad” where you can get tips on how to remove the “nice” from your personality and interactions with others. Each tip comes with the ability to share it on Twitter or Facebook and clicking either of those icons will take you to that service, with the update box filled in with the tip itself and a link back to the movie’s official website.
“Badvatar” allows you to upload a photo of yourself, answer a few questions and then have that photo changed to reflect your new badass personality.
Off to the left of the screen there’s a little notebook that, when you click on it, opens up some “exclusive” content to download such as Video Clips, Photos of the cast and the theatrical Poster. That content is only accessed after you’ve already visited all the other areas and, if you haven’t done so, the notebook will prompt you to.
At the bottom of the page are links to the movie’s Facebook page, which has much of the usual content as well as updates on trailer and soundtrack availability and other news, and the unique Twitter profile for the film which has similar updates.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
One of the first bits of online advertising I saw was actually a move Dimension/Miramax took from Paramount’s playbook. They mounted an online campaign were people in select locations could use Eventful to “Demand” that the film come to their college campus, which is more or less what Paramount had just gotten a ton of publicity doing to support Paranormal Activity. So banners were run on sites that had similar audiences to what the film was trying attract – I saw it on MTV.com for instance – that had the poster’s key art as their focal point.
In addition to that specific campaign there was some decent amount of general online advertising I seem to have come across that used the poster art as its main graphical element. But I haven’t seen anything in the way of TV advertising, a claim that comes with the usual disclaimer that if they’re not on the website or on YouTube and if I haven’t been alerted to them then I may have just missed a huge push during a show I don’t watch that airs at a time I’m asleep.
CollegeHumor (nice audience overlap) ran a promotion called “Join the Revolution” that encouraged people to submit 20-second videos of themselves engaging in some form of harmless bad behavior with the promise of a trip to Las Vegas, $250 in cash and the potential of the winning video being featured on the movie’s DVD release.
Media and Publicity
Really the first bit of publicity for the movie, the first bit of buzz, came when there was footage released of Cera freaking out on the set. This was obviously staged and was meant to strike the same tone as similarly staged footage of Cera having meltdown during an audition for 2007′s Knocked Up. It’s also meant to be somewhat of a satire of the leaked audio of Christian Bale’s freaking out on the set of Terminator Salvation.
The movie had its formal coming out party at the Toronto Film Festival, with the resulting reviews and coverage being overall positive and more than a few echoing the sentiment of Eric Kohn at IndieWire that Cera’s performance was an expansion on the character he’s played time and time again now. That notion would come back up in much of the resulting coverage of the movie as it moved toward a release.
Right after Toronto, though, The Weinstein Co. announced the movie would be moving from November 2009 to a new release date of January 2010, an odd move and one that might have signaled any number of things, from the studio not having enough money to give it a solid marketing push this calendar year to the movie not being awards-worthy despite the positive buzz it was accumulating from its festival appearances.
The stars of the movie also engaged in a college tour to promote the film through a series of live Q&A sessions with students.
Much of the publicity, though, centered around the idea that this movie broke the mold (Los Angeles Times, 1/3/10) of previous teen rebellion films and certainly was a break from the normal rote performance Cera has been giving to date. That label of being different from recent movies seems to be based on the fact that it’s not all dick jokes but instead contains a hint of brains and actual humor.
If this movie were coming from anyone but the Weinstein Co. I’d label the campaign short-sighted and half-hearted. The website isn’t anywhere near fully featured, the lack of paid advertising support (at least that I’ve noticed) for the new teen comedy with Michael Cera is inexcusable and there isn’t nearly the level of publicity I would expect. And that’s all without addressing the shift from late 2009 to early 2010, a period when most industry watchers aren’t paying attention to what’s new but instead still discussing last year’s releases as we move into awards season or what’s about to debut at Sundance.
But it is Weinstein behind the effort and we do grade on a curve here at MMM so I’ll give it props for being more substantive than many of the campaigns for the movies they’re looking to unload because they lack serious Oscar potential. Compared to some of them the website is slick and uber-active and the advertising well placed and serious.
Aside from that you’ve got a handful of good, if not great, trailers and good, if not great, posters and a decent publicity push, all of which should combine to adequately reach the film’s target audience of Cera fans and people who enjoy teen angst movies in general.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 1/6/10: There was at least some TV advertising done, with specially designed spots airing during “Jersey Shore” that featured Cera poking fun at the show.