Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Elisabeth Reaser. Directed by Jason Reitman. 94 minutes. 14A
Last time Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody teamed up, for the dividing 2007 Sunny D-elight Juno, they introduced us to a hipster girl (Ellen Page) who was pushed into early adulthood after being knocked up by her gawkward track team BFF (Michael Cera). Now, with the Cody-penned, Reitman-directed Young Adult, the dynamic duo are telling the opposite story, one that’s not being retold repeatedly via MTV reality shows, but is not all that uncommon either. Here, lies the tale of an modern day, Marc Jacobs-wearing J.M. Barrie character, a selfish thirtysomething woman who refuses to grow up.
Whether you like to look back at the photographic evidence of your Sketchers obsession, take your favourite mix tape out for another spin, trying, try on your old Mathlete uniform or simply attempt to forget that awful nickname your Regina Georges thrust upon you, everyone hearkens back to their high school days now and again. That’s why YA fiction, films and movies remain remarkably popular with the post-post-secondary set. There’s something strangely addictive about revisiting and rethinking that troubling transitional period and figuring out how much you’ve grown since then.
But what if your mind never caught up with your much-improved, matured bod? What if you couldn’t get past your so-called glory days, when you didn’t have any responsibility except passing algebra and making sure you closed your window after sneaking back in from that bitchin’ bush party? That’s the problem facing Young Adult‘s heroine, if you can even call her that, Mavis.
Mavis, played with party monstrous zeal by a raccoon-eyed, Diet Coke-head Charlize Theron, is a teen novelist who keeps boxes of her first boyfriend’s stuff in her dirty clothes-covered, Cheetos wrapper home of a one bedroom apartment. She seems totally satisfied with her undeveloped life until she gets two equally crushing e-mails: one from said former beau (Patrick Wilson) and his current wife (Elizabeth Reaser) announcing the birth of their new baby, and another, from her publisher, stating that she’s only got one book left to write before her deal is up.
Instead of nose diving into a traditional, black tear-filled threesome with Ben and Jerry, Mavis decides this is her signal to head back to her childhood town and get her ex – and the perfect life that should have been hers – back. What follows is a highly discomforting, funny only to those that can’t handle it, series of unfortunate events.
Mavis meets up with Buddy and not-so-subtly throws herself at him, assuming he returns the feelings and wants an escape from his lady, who may just be the nicest woman in the world. She also starts a strange relationship with former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt, Cody’s United States of Tara), a action figure obsessed nerd and victim of a heinous high school hate crime.
Mavis’ relationships with both men are cringe-worthy, as she desperately seeks some hint of the attention she got as a jail bait princess and never quite finds it. They are also extremely well-acted. Theron is the best she’s been since she won the Oscar for Monster, bearing this woman’s ugly, make-up-masked soul again and again (we literally play Rear Window to the murder of her natural beauty by way of lip waxes and good wigs several times). This is especially obvious in her scenes with Oswalt.
The comedian, who was praised, but not rewarded for his equally hard-to-watch role in Big Fan, brings out the best and worst in Theron, and remarkably, comes out even stronger. He sucks you in with his droopy eyes, which carry his bullied, garage boozing baggage around day in and day out, and keeps you hanging on until the way-bitter end. If this movie gets one Oscar nomination, it should go to him.
Fans of Cody’s other work, including Juno and the highly misjudged Jennifer’s Body, may be disappointed by the lack of snappy catchphrases and unexplained pop culture references in this film. But this script, ironically her most mature yet, fits the material – not to mention the style of Reitman’s more recent projects – like a tailored Letterman jacket. It comes across almost like a waste case lady friend of Up in the Air, exploring the life of another person who masks their sadness in clear obsession and, even when confronted with the root of their issues, may never be ready to move on.
The dialogue of Young Adult feel ripped out the girl’s diary no one would have bothered reading, even if it was left open at a house party. It’s simple really, but bleeds harsh truths (Mavis tries to tell her parents that she “might be an alcoholic” and they pretend like they just heard the lunch bell), which could make it difficult for those who have never bit their tongue (or conversely gnawed their foot to the bone) to gulp down. (Especially if they’re using a Breaking Dawn commemorative cupped Mountain Dew chaser to do so) But if these things didn’t burn a little, the film wouldn’t have the same lasting effect Cody.
Many reviewers have found fault in the film simply due to Mavis’ off-putting personality. I found much fascination in it. Sure, her surly demeanor and bad intentions may make you want to cover your eyes at times, but as one of my favourite flawed YA heroines use to allude to, often times the most spectacular people are those that hurt the most to look at. A-