Review: Young Adult

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by:Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Mary Beth Hurt
Released: January 19, 2012
Grade: A-

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a talented writer.  She left her small town roots behind and moved to the “big city” where she has a nice apartment and a cute dog.  She’s responsible for a long running, profitable book series for which sales are strong.  She’s maintained her beautiful looks and is as happy as she’s ever been.

What I’ve just said is complete rubbish.  It’s not a description of Mavis Gary.  Rather, it’s the image that Mary wants to portray.  Deep down, she’s a struggling author who is battling depression and trying to regroup after a recent divorce.  She doesn’t want people to know that however.  She wants her family and friends to think that she’s successful, that she’s better than them.

Young Adult revolves around Mavis’s efforts to rekindle her relationship with her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Wilson).  Having been through one failed marriage, she now has “clarity” and believes that she and Buddy were always meant to be together.

Buddy is now married with a young child and yet, Mavis still thinks she has a chance.  She has returned to her hometown under the guise that she’s buying real estate but her real motive is to bump into Buddy and seduce him.

I’ve got to say – Mavis Gary is an absorbing individual and credit goes to Academy Award winning writer Diablo Cody (Juno) for creating her.  Before putting pen to paper, Cody has the idea of someone who “peaked in high school and wonders now in her 30s how she can recreate those circumstances and be the queen bee again.”  I love the idea.

I’m interested to see how audiences react to Mavis Gary.  It’s not often that the leading character in a comedy is so unlikeable.  Her borderline-psychotic behaviour will generate a raft of negative emotions – anger, disgust, sadness, embarrassment.  A good friend of mine couldn’t even look at the screen during certain scenes.  Mavis’s actions left him cringing with horror.

The bigger question is whether audiences will feel any sympathy?  There are several moments where we see past the façade and gain an insight into her fractured mindset.  Most of these scenes are shared with Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), a guy she bumps into at a dingy bar.  The two went to school together but Mavis has no memory of this.  She was part of the “popular group” whilst Matt was the complete opposite.

Their backgrounds are remarkably different but Mavis and Matt seem to have a lot in common today.  They both enjoy a drink and they both enjoy criticising others.  More importantly, they are both in need of a good friend.

I’m surprised Charlize Theron hasn’t take on more leading roles since her Oscar winning turn in Monster (released back in 2003) but Young Adult will remind the public of her ability.  She’s not afraid to play a character that is ugly on both the inside and outside.  Patton Oswalt (who worked with Diablo Cody on The United States Of Tara) is also very good.

The story takes a little while to get going but the plot developments in the final act are well worth the wait.  There’s a terrific scene at a baby shower followed by an intense conversation between Mavis and Matt’s sister (played by a scene-stealing Collette Wolfe).

Director Jason Reitman now has four feature films to his name – Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult.  Comedy is a tricky genre to perfect but Reitman’s attraction to edgier, darker material places him high on my list of favoured filmmakers.  I can’t wait for his next offering.