Movie Review: Young Adult
Former High School Golden Girl Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) has long ago left behind the little podunk town of Mercury, Minnesota in which she was born and raised. Now residing in Minneapolis, she’s a divorcee living like a hermit out of her high-rise apartment. Subsisting on Diet Coke and alcohol, the one thing that Mavis still has going for her, is her job as a ghost writer for a series of Sweet Valley High-like young adult novels.
One day, she receives an email that gives her reason to pause: her former high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) are inviting her to a party for the birth of their new baby. Mavis then makes a life-altering decision (as life-altering as her current predicament is), and heads back to Mercury with the intention of ‘saving’ Buddy. During her time in town, she also runs into another classmate named Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who was the victim of a hate-crime in high school that has left him dependent on an arm brace for mobility. A Beauty and the Geek type of bond seems to form between Mavis and Matt, as she can’t seem to stop running into him in her small hometown, and he becomes her confidante to her grand plan.
One question that screenwriter Diablo Cody often got was, “When are you going to write a screenplay that isn’t about teenagers?” There are a few traces of Cody’s teenage lingo at work in Young Adult, but they don’t fly with the velocity like what we’ve heard previously in Juno or Jennifer’s Body. For those whose biggest issue with Cody is her Honest to Blog dialogue, it soon becomes apparent that she has chosen to keep such verbalizing for the teenagers.
It wasn’t hard for me to accept Charlize Theron as Mavis (in a way, she reminded me of the character Tina that she played in the film That Thing You Do, only a little older). Her character was ‘that one girl’ in high school we almost all remember in some capacity. Even so (unless you have a huge chip on your shoulder regarding such girls), we are soon intrigued by Mavis’ character rather than repulsed. Maybe it’s because we feel that she’s on some kind of collision course, but we don’t quite know just who or what she is going to collide with.
Just as impressive with their character is Patton Oswalt as Matt. Aside from his smaller comedy and stand-up roles, Oswalt’s only real ‘meaty’ film role so far was as reclusive sports fanatic Paul Aufiero in Big Fan. Oswalt walks a very fine tightrope in making Matt a character we can sympathize with, but not milking his condition for audience sympathy. His role as Mavis’ confidante is interesting to watch, if not for the fact that you can see that once she tells why she’s in town, he just wants to tell her outright, “This is a bad/stupid/dumb idea.” Of course, Matt’s too much of a nice guy to do this. Then again, maybe he is also wondering what the aftermath will be.
One problem with Young Adult is that it’s such a unique film, that any ideas regarding marketing just feels like the advertising campaign will be a shot in the foot. After watching the film, viewing the trailer just makes it feel like the marketing people are being a bit too ‘blunt.’ I applaud the filmmakers for using their sneak-preview screenings to drum up word-of-mouth for the picture. Reitman in a Q&A did state that they avoided film festivals for this one, and felt it best to take it to the people.
The best bit of advice I can give is to enter Young Adult with an open mind. The times I have done this (with films like Amelie, The World’s Fastest Indian, and Let The Right One In), I emerged from the theater having enjoyed the film even more. Young Adult is funny, enjoyable, and in it’s own quirky way, messes around with it’s audience whenever it can. Sometimes, it helps when a movie gets to jerk you around by the leash, and blow your mind.
Young Adult opens in limited release December 9th, and nationwide December 16th.