YOUNG ADULT, 2011
Stars: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, JK Simmons, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Emily Meade, Brady Smith, Louisa Krause, Ella Rae Peck
Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is, or at least thinks she is, your small-town-girl made good. She’s the kind of person the characters of the young adult novels she writes hope to be. Possessed of good lucks and some talent she chucked her little Minnesota hamlet as fast as she could, headed for a land of milk and honey where she could the fashions, fashionable restaurants, and fashionable people she deserved to be around: Minneapolis. Her life is filled with entertaining herself with no responsibilities and no one to hold her down. And, amazingly, she is incredibly unhappy.
The last time director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) and screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Jennifer’s Body”) got together they produced a refreshingly look at innocence and reminder that it is has not vanished the way we are often told it has. In “Young Adult” they have turned 180 degrees and provided us with the exact opposite in the form of the anti-“Juno” – Mavis Gary.
It would be doing a disservice to the word ‘shallow’ to call Mavis shallow. A product of the kind of narcissism which makes E! and Bravo reality shows successful; she looks down at the world around her and then wonders why no one wants her to share it with them. Trying to figure out why she returns the last place she really wants to be—Mercury, Minnesota—in an insane plan to make her now married ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) fall in love with her again.
It would be easy to call “Young Adult” a dark comedy, it certainly mines some bleak territory for laughs particularly in the form of local hate crimes victim Matt (Patton Oswalt) that can’t help but follow her even though he knows better. But that’s not really what it is. “Young Adult” is an unsatisfying comedy, but in the most satisfying of ways. It is showing us a picture of a broken human being and offering no easy fixes or solutions to their lives. It is an anti-Hollywood romantic comedy.
Set firmly in the middle-class hinterland a lot of popular culture strives to ignore, a world of big box stores and family dining chains, “Young Adult” turns the tables on the immature bohemian disdain which youth (and the youth-obsessed) have for such a place because they are not yet adult enough to take part in it.
Not quite the assured effort “Up in the Air” was, “Young Adult” is more of an exercise in craft for Reitman. But if he can do this sort of thing in his sleep now he is at least providing a fantastic canvas for the professional women in his life. Mavis is such a mess it would be tough not to give a fantastic performance in the role but Theron goes above and beyond in a part which is far more unattractive than “Monster” could have ever hoped to have been and certainly more difficult. “Young Adult” is without the question the best she has ever been on screen.
Even better, it shows the growth in Cody as a writer. After the success of “Juno” she could easily have wallowed in her talents, producing similar sounding films with little effort. It’s particularly easy for a writer who puts so much of her voice into her characters, making it easy to be pegged for doing a certain thing, a problem which plagued her sophomore effort. But if “Young Adult” certainly sounds like a film from the writer of “Juno” it doesn’t at all sound like “Juno.” Cody has stretched her wings and proven she can plumb deeper depths than just teenage comedy. She understands human beings (as much as anyone does, anyway) and that’s the first thing a truly good writer needs. Diablo Cody is a truly good writer.
The end result may not work for everyone. “Young Adult” intentionally averts many of the tropes and clichés which fill similar kinds of stories, creating a character that intentionally and irrevocably refuses to change and grow and in the process warns us of the dangers of following in her wake.
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YOUNG ADULT, 2011