- Movie Rating -

Young Adult (2011)

| December 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

The first few scenes of Young Adult tells us, without words, exactly everything we need to know about its subject, and therefore signals that this isn’t just another romantic comedy.  By the ten minute mark we already feel that we know everything we need to know about Mavis Gary.  She’s nearing 40, divorced, lives alone in a high-rise condo in Minneapolis with her dog, and ghost-writes a series of teen vampire novels whose decline in popularity has forced her to have to write the final installment.  Having nothing significant in her life, Mavis is stuck in a free-floating form of permanent adolescence.  With an unsatisfying present-tense and no promising future-tense, it might be understandable that Mavis pines for the past.

She is also not very likable, and that’s what grabs our attention.  We figure that eventually, through a series of lessons learned, she will find some form of redemption.  She does . . . sort of, but not in a ham-handed way.  This is not your standard-issue romantic comedy, all full of misunderstandings and over-saturated pratfalls.  No, this is much smarter movie than that.  Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have created a very specific character, with very specific dimensions and the story follows her along based on her personality, not based on the manipulations of the plot.  In fact, the opening scenes tell us everything we need to know about her life.  We understand how she conducts her business, how she lives, how she gets out of bed in the morning.  By the time the opening credits arrive, we have a portrait of this character already formed in our minds.

We also understand something of her past.  Long ago, Mavis was the prom queen of her high school in her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, where she waded in her popularity and made life a blistering nightmare for those beneath her.  Now into adulthood, she has nothing to show for it.  She is distressed when she gets an email announcing that the great love of her life, her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has gotten married and recently fathered a daughter.  Something in Mavis’ brain is disturbed by this news.  She’s still in love with Buddy after all these years.  In her mind, that should have been her baby, her husband, her life.  Determined to see where things stand with Buddy – in spite of the fact that he is happily married – she gets in the car and drives to Mercury with a half-baked plan to win him back.  This is not exactly a plan that has been crafted with care.  What she intends to do when she gets there doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.  We figure that Mavis is the kind of person whose mind works best in theory, not logic.

Arriving in Mercury, she looks up Buddy, and finds that her feelings for him haven’t changed.  That he is handsome and charming and also happily married.  Buddy and his wife Beth are surprisingly welcoming to Mavis for reasons that remain hidden until a crucial moment.  Dolling herself up, she visits with Buddy in a bar and makes googly eyes at him, yet he remains at merely a welcoming stance.

A Greek chorus to Mavis’ pathetic plan presents itself in the form of Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a nerdy, overweight guy that she went to high school with.  He was one of those guys who loved her for years, but whom she hardly took notice of.  They shared a locker next to one another but she was too busy in her social station to acknowledge his existence.  When she meets him in a bar early on, she lets her lack of tact be known: “You’re the hate-crime guy”.  It is true, during high school he made local headlines when he was crippled by jocks based on the information that he was gay – he wasn’t gay, actually, he just took Drama.  The attack left him with a crippled leg and a barely-functioning manhood.

What is surprising is that, with limited screentime, Matt functions as a major player in this story.  Mavis is determined to win back Buddy’s heart, but Matt comes in as the voice of reason.  Patton Oswalt is a distinctive actor with a very distinctive voice.  He serves as the voice of reason, the reality that Mavis wants to desperately to avoid.  He could be in love with Mavis if she had an ounce of common sense, but seeing how ridiculous she is, he keeps his distance until a very crucial moment.

What comes from Young Adult is something of a breath of fresh air for those who have grown weary of the romantic comedy.  Most actors wouldn’t go near the notes that Charlize Theron brings to this role.  She’s unlikable, pathetic and deserves what she gets.  We feel something that she can’t face the reality that Buddy is never going to be hers, but seeing her finally get what’s coming to her has a bit of satisfaction on its own.  We don’t like Mavis.  She deserves the misery that she has created for herself

This is Charlize Theron’s best performance since Monster, here playing a character without an ounce of remorse.  I would call the performance ‘fearless’.  She isn’t afraid to look like a jerk, and the climactic scene at the baby’s naming ceremony is a scene that most actresses would have wanted to soften up.  Here is an extraordinarily beautiful actress – a pure DNA jackpot – who puts her own image on the line.  She is to be commended, and it is a little sad that she was recently passed over for a Golden Globe nomination.

Jason Reitman, the director is becoming someone whose work I look forward to.  He made Up in the Air, and Thank You for Smoking, also films about people who are specific characters that we struggle to warm up to.  This is his first collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody since Juno, my favorite film of 2007.  They are wise not to try and repeat the success of that film.  Juno was about a very likable girl in a difficult circumstance that she created for herself.  Young Adult is about someone who creates an equally difficult situation, but is beyond remorse.  They’ve created a fearless film, that doesn’t telegraph in advance how we should feel about it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2011) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized