Young Adult (2011)
Rated – R
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody team up again for the first time since their Academy Award-winning collaboration, Juno. This time, there is no cute cover of a love song at the end of the film to leave you smiling and humming on your way out of the theater. The feeling you’re left with after Young Adult is quite the opposite.
At the heart (or lack thereof) of the film is Mavis Gary (Theron), a 37-year-old ghost-writer of a once-popular youth adult fiction series who returns to her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to win over her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Wilson) who is happily married with a baby. Mavis needs no convincing that what she wants is by the hand of fate and quickly mistakens Buddy’s kindness as a sign that he needs to be rescued from his loveless prison of a marriage.
The movie could’ve seriously been deficient in character depth if it wasn’t for Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), a “loser” who went to school with Mavis. She only remembers him when she sees his walking cane and realized he was the “hate-crime guy.” Matt offers the much-needed sympathy and common sense throughout a film with such a stubborn and damaged protagonist. The interactions between Theron and Oswalt are the highlights of the movie.
At the surface, Young Adult displays a walking train-wreck of a woman with a drinking problem who realizes that her current situation is far from what she dreamed about when growing up. Mavis’ immaturity is compared to the genre of fiction novels she writes, as it appeals to teenagers. But what we really have here is a woman who bathes in her own misery because she doesn’t know how to achieve true happiness. She understands happiness through other people’s reactions, such as getting married or having a baby, but she doesn’t completely get it since she’s never experienced it. So she walks down memory lane desperately searching for the answer to cure her depression, only to discover the answer isn’t in the past.
Young Adult was rarely funny and I was disappointed by this, unless the climactic embarrassing scene was meant to induce more than a nervous chuckle. However, what the film lacked as an enjoyable dramedy it made up by being a bold character-study. Still in the end, Cody has written better women leads before and even though the film’s greatest strength lies within Mavis’ weakness, it doesn’t capture the wit and sharpness of Juno.