On the surface, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) appears to have it all. She’s a beautiful, successful author. She lives in the “big city” – Minneapolis – and leads a carefree, childless life. But underneath, she’s lonely, and, to be quite frank, is a budding sociopath. She has been contracted to write the last novel in a once popular young adult series, but she is having trouble getting started/motivated. Procrastinating, she checks her email, and in it, finds a photo of her former beau’s new baby girl. The image sets off something inside of her, and soon she is on the road driving to her hometown of Mercury, Minn., ready to win back the heart of Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), her former flame who just happens to be happily married.
I will admit that I’ve never understood Diablo Cody’s appeal. I loathed Juno (2007) – the dialogue seemed so contrived to me, and I despised Jennifer Garner’s character – and I didn’t care much for Jennifer’s Body (2009) – that probably had more to do with the casting of Megan “No Talent” Fox. And because of my overall dislike of Cody, I probably would have avoided Young Adult, which she scripted, had it not been for Theron’s involvement. I’m glad that I gave the film a chance, because had I not, I would have missed out on seeing a 4-star effort. Plus, now I can say that maybe I don’t hate Cody after all. (That remains to be seen. Let’s first see what she does with the screenplay for the Evil Dead remake.)
Young Adult is definitely not a film that will be loved by many. Mavis is a pretty despicable character. You remember that beautiful, blonde, slightly slutty, very popular, stuck-up bitch from high school? Well, that’s Mavis, in all her horn-wearing glory. Only now she’s older. Well, and she is a raging alcoholic who suffers from trichotillomania, has “bonding” problems, and seems to have an eating disorder, specifically a binging problem, especially on KFC, McDonalds, and Diet Coke. She might also have Asperger’s, because she really has no idea how to act in social situations or even how her insensitivity affects others. At one point, she even had a look in her eyes that made me think she could easily kill someone, but we’ll not dwell on this point.
Despite the fact that Mavis is a total “head case,” you don’t totally hate her. At certain times, I found myself understanding her; at other times, I felt sorry for her. Not that she needs my or your pity. As long as she remains desirable to men and is successful, she will continue to live in a cloud of superiority. That or until her liver packs in, which could be very soon. I don’t know if I would have been so forgiving of Mavis had another actress played her. In fact, I don’t even know if I would have believed that this character existed had Theron, who I’m glad is finally making movies again, not played her. It’s interesting that I recently watched Monster (2003) – the pinnacle performance of her career – and even though Aileen was a serial killer, a prostitute with serious rage issues, Theron manages to make her sympathetic. She does the same with the equally deplorable Mavis; she finds the sliver of humanity in the character.
As for the rest of the characters in the film, none are as revolting as Mavis. Buddy is a sweet, considerate, “normal,” very likable guy. His wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), too, has a bigger heart and more patience than most women would have. I mean, how many women, especially ones hopped up on new mom hormones, would allow their husbands to accompany their old flames to a bar? And Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a chubby, disabled accountant, lends an ear and provides plenty of alcohol to this woman who didn’t give him the time of day in high school. Threatening to upstage Theron, Oswalt plays the most “relatable” character in the film. In high school, Matt was into theater, which meant to the jocks that he was gay. To “punish” him for his homosexuality – he isn’t gay – these testosterone-filled freaks took a crowbar to Matt, breaking his legs and his penis. Today, he walks with a crutch, still lives with his sister, Sandra (Collette Wolfe); distills bourbon named after the Mos Eisley cantina; and enjoys reassembling action figures into new creations. Why Mavis befriends Matt is complicated. Well, maybe not. He calls her on her shit, and he helps her get “loaded.” Their conversations create the best moments in the film, and Oswalt gets all of the best lines. For instance, when he throws back a drink, he says “Take that liver.” Had me chuckling. (Sitting in the cinema with me were two other people; I was the only one laughing.)
Young Adult is categorized as a “comedy/drama,” which probably isn’t accurate. It has a few funny moments, but it’s comedy created out of discomfort. Mavis is mentally ill. No doubt about it. And the things that she says and does are the types of things that sociopaths, people with antisocial personality disorder, say and do. At one point, I thought that the film could have easily gone down a very dark road – a homicidal one – and turned into something very different. That said, I really enjoyed Young Adult. Mavis is a fascinating and complex character; I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Credit for that goes to Cody and, no doubt, Theron. I would like to see her reap some awards for this performance. Oswalt, too, is wonderful. I’m not all that familiar with his stand-up. Now I am intrigued.
Finally, a few quick comments. About director Jason Reitman’s choices … I thought that having the TV playing in the background, and showing either episodes from the Kardashians or Kendra Wilkinson reality shows, was brilliant. Having these vacuous, no-talent “props” blathering on about nothing beautifully mirrored the worldview of Mavis. She IS Kim Kardashian, a pampered princess who thinks that the world should bow before her because she is beautiful. Just wait until their looks head south. And about Dulce … although I felt sorry for that adorable buff-colored Pomeranian, having it in the film demonstrated that Mavis was clearly unable to “bond” with anything. Who can’t bond with a fluffy, puffball? The scenes in the hotel, during which the enthusiastic dog was jumping up and Mavis just ignored it, were difficult to watch. But, again, they reinforced how deluded she was about the fact that she might have been able to have a family with Buddy. I can’t even imagine her with children. In fact, someone really should take Dulce away from her. Maybe Matt. (Giving her that little dog connected Mavis to people like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and all the other rich, self-absorbed daddy’s girls who should not procreate.)
Young Adult isn’t a film that will be embraced by the masses. It’s unpleasant and doesn’t have a “happy ending.” It isn’t really “funny” and it will, no doubt, alienate some viewers. Who is its intended audience? I’m not sure. Probably Cody fans. Theron enthusiasts. (That’s me.) Um, hmmm. Definitely not lovers of rom-coms, so why they were showing trailers for the syrupy The Vow (2012), The Lucky One (2012), and re-issue of The Titantic (1997) is beyond me. People who watch those kinds of films will NOT like Young Adult. I guarantee it.
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