It’s arrested development – Young Adult review

Young Adult – Starring Charlize TheronPatton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson. Directed by Jason Reitman. Rated M. Originally published January 16, 2012. By Simon Miraudo.

Young Adult arrives on DVD and Blu-ray May 16, 2012.

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody last collaborated on Junoa film about a teenage girl who thought she was always the smartest person in the room, and who had to come to terms with the fact she was actually still just a kid despite the adult situations thrust upon her. Reitman and Cody’s second pairing, Young Adultis about a similar predicament. The primary difference is that the heroine of this film is no teenager; she’s a 37-year-old ghost-writer with a drinking problem and one of the most outrageous and unearned superiority complexes committed to screen. She’s the kind of person who says, ‘God, I’ve been through a lot’, while sitting opposite someone who was once viciously beaten and left for dead in the woods. At least we knew Juno MacGuff was going to grow up into a good-hearted human being. Young Adult’s Mavis Gary is undergoing a manic break from reality of Charlie Sheen proportions. And much like Sheen’s own bizarre breakdown, Mavis’ is hilarious, terrifying, and deeply depressing all at once.

Young Adult opens on Charlize Theron’s Mavis awaking from a clumsy night’s sleep in her drab Minneapolis high-rise apartment. She watches MTV all day (remember, it’s not a music channel anymore – we’re talking The City and The Kardashians), sculls Diet Coke, barely manages to keep her Pomeranian alive, and generally tries to avoid writing the last instalment of her soon-to-be-defunct YA series. She’s included in a group email from the wife of her former high school flame Buddy (Patrick Wilson) introducing everyone to their new-born bundle of joy. This grave transgression on Buddy’s wife’s behalf inspires Mavis to pack up her things and drive back to her hick hometown to save her old lover from suburban hell. Armed with a mix-tape of alternative 90s hits, she arrives in Mercury, Minnesota and discovers a lot has changed (the local football team wised up and changed their name from ‘The Injuns’ to ‘The Indians’; also, the town now has a Kentaco Hut). The only thing that hasn’t changed is her. In fact, she might have even regressed over the past twenty years. Mavis continues to write her latest book whilst enacting ‘Operation Seduce Buddy’, and eventually morphs into her familiar-sounding lead character; a heroically awesome high schooler who can’t understand why everyone around her is so lame.

Theron is so unabashedly, aggressively, profoundly unlikable here. Her inner-ugliness even manages to seep out to her exterior, and Theron’s undeniably gorgeous visage seems to look in a perpetual state of decay despite being plastered with make-up. But she’s also such a loser that our pity far outweighs our hate (sadly, this is the only way people like Mavis find love). Just when you think she crosses the point of no return, she boozily stumbles back towards humanity. That’s not to say she’s a caricature; far from it. Over the course of the movie, it becomes clear Mavis is not only an alcoholic, but might even have a debilitating mental disorder. Eventually, we learn the reasons for her afflictions, in the most inappropriate and uncomfortable fashion imaginable. There’s an argument to be made here that Cody is taking sweet revenge on all the mean girls from her high school by inventing a future for them as bleak as that which the little kid faced in The Road. Still, although Mavis is a creature, she’s a fully-rounded creature, and one we’re all too familiar with.

I’ve not even mentioned Patton Oswalt yet, who plays a semi-crippled former peer of Mavis’. Presumably he’s been getting on with his life in the decades since school finished, but as soon as he lays eyes on her in the local bar, he relapses into the fawning geek who’s just pleased the gorgeous girl is talking to him (no matter how mean she’s being). Both he and Theron give such bold, heart-broken performances. Their comic timing is also fantastic. The entire picture is so darkly funny and deeply sad, and it ends on such a peculiar and priceless note. I applauded Reitman for being one of the most ‘soulful’ directors in my review of Up in the Air. Young Adult may seem soul-less, but that’s not the case; Mavis’ soul is just a bit uglier and more bruised than most of ours. Reitman, Cody and Theron work wonders by merely giving us a glimpse at it, and although it ain’t pretty, it still counts.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Young Adult arrives on DVD and Blu-ray May 16, 2012.

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