December 16, 2011
Reviewed by Marc Glassman
The last time director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody combined forces the result was the quirky Indie hit Juno. Now, with Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron in the lead, will lightning strike twice?
Black comedy; quirky revenge tale; “you can’t go home again” bio-study
Mavis Gary (Theron), a heavy-drinking writer of a series of young adult novels for the adolescent girl market, decides to depart Minneapolis and return to her home—and very small-town Mercury, Minnesota. Object: to win back her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade, despite the fact that he and his wife, Becky, appear to be happily married with a newborn baby.
On arriving in Mercury, Mavis strikes up a surprising friendship with Matt, a local loser, whose locker was next to Mavis’ for four years in high school. While Mavis awkwardly pursues Buddy, turning every encounter into a victory in her campaign to win him back, she finds time to hang out and drink excessively with Matt, who had been crippled by local jocks, who thought that he was queer.
Mavis is moving inevitably into a scene where her dreams and dark past will be revealed to her family and former friends. No one can stop her—but the question remains: what will happen to her next?
Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Mavis Gary is worth the price of admission to this mixed bag of a film. She owns the character of Mavis, a gorgeous wreck of a woman who has never grown out of late adolescence. Men have played this part for decades—think of Jason Robards in Long Day’s Journey into Night or Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—but how often do see attractive females doing it? Kudos to Theron, who is brilliant and brave.
Patton Oswalt, a stand-up comedian, is a great “odd couple” match for Theron. He makes Matt, who could be a pathetic character, someone who has humour and depth despite his problems. There’s a lovely scene where the devastated Mavis asks Matt, “Do you love me?” To which Oswalt’s Matt delivers his line with a perfect mix of wry assessment and regret: “Guys like me are born loving women like you.”
As always, Reitman follows his characters in an unobtrusive manner. He doesn’t look as if he’s directing half the time—Reitman isn’t flashy—but the scenes are all delivered note perfect. Reitman is becoming a great comic director.
With Theron and Oswalt delivering performances filled with humour and meaning, Young Adult is, at its core, a solid film.
The problem is that Mavis is so unlikeable that it’s hard to imagine an audience wanting to watch her. As in Juno, Diablo Cody’s script is outrageous and funny, but the targets seem random and often self-directed. Juno skewered hypocritical middle-class values; Young Adult tries to mine the same terrain but to less effect.
This film may find its best, niche, audiences on DVD.