Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody made a highly contested film with the 2007 Academy Award nominee Juno. The duo reteams for an equally divided movie with Young Adult. The movie will be a hot topic due to the extreme unlikeability of leading lady Charlize Theron. Despite that, the movie is an intriguing look at how people find fulfillment in their lives, and how growing up can happen well into your 30s.
Mavis Gary (Theron) is a 37-year-old author of young adult novels who goes through a routine that involves drinking heavily and having meaningless sex with nameless men. When she receives a birth announcement from her high-school love Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), Mavis sees this as an opportunity to go back to her hometown and win him back. Upon returning to Mercury, Missouri, she runs into another high school friend Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who tries to show her that life isn’t too bad.
I’m a fan of Diablo Cody and her work so I’m obviously the target demographic for this film. It’s not for everyone, but if you sit back and let the story take you, you’ll find something about Mavis is relatable. Sure the character is hell-bent on breaking up a happy home, but there is logic and reasoning behind it. The movie tells a brutal tale about growing up, finding yourself, and wondering what makes a person happy. Many say Mavis is too rude and should have grown up a long time ago, but there is a method to the madness. The world of celebrity television paints a grim picture in what makes a person jealous of another, and for Mavis it’s seeing the picture perfect homelike Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) have. Through her relationship with Matt, Mavis comes to hear someone tell her “no.” The script is biting and insightful with some fantastic monologues compliments of Oswalt, Theron and Collette Wolfe as Matt’s equally bored sister Sandra. This is truly an actor’s film and if anything one should see it for its performances.
The actors give their A-game for this movie and I’m ecstatic that Theron is being recognized. Mavis is not easy to like, she’s not meant to be and Theron plays the evil well. She’s not malicious, she’s manipulative and you can see the cogs turning in her head throughout. Theron plays the manipulative part with aplomb but she also has fantastic depth to her. When she finally comes to an epiphany at the end and is utterly broken, Theron puts her guard down, and is literally naked to the world. You can see the vulnerability she brings to the character throughout the film, from the eye squints to the hair pulling, but when she loses it it’s not a wailing moment, but a more interior break. Oswalt at times exceeds Theron’s acting as Matt “the hate crime guy.” He’s a man who is the product of this high school atmosphere, and has lost his potential due to being handicapped. Oswalt’s character isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, because he’s had it harder than Mavis. His sister Sandra keeps everything inside and Wolfe play the character with a subtle grace.
There are probably just as many people who will hate this movie as will love it. Mavis never changes and is extremely whiny and needy. That’s the character, take it or leave it. The movie is also being billed as a comedy on par with Juno and it’s not. It’s a dark comedy/drama where the lines aren’t laugh out loud, but more laugh at the sheer embarrassment of the situation. There are no quirky invented words a la Juno or Jennifer’s Body; it’s a straight script from Cody that’s very adult in tone.
Young Adult is a film that must be seen in order to form an opinion because for every review that says this is Reitman and Cody’s best, there’s another that says it’s the worst. This isn’t my favorite movie of the year but I understood the character and appreciated the film for saying what it had to say.