In an age where many of us have taken to social networking to find out what’s happened to those we grew up with and spent our formative years with, Jason Reitman’s Young Adult is a near-perfect capsule of what it feels like to look down on someone – and fall flat on our faces. Written by Diablo Cody, this film marks the first time since Juno that the writer and Reitman have worked together.
Young Adult is probably the best pure character study of 2011. It takes the most popular girl in high school and follows her as she nears the dreaded 40s. She’s not yet equipped with the tools to move behind her deluded juvenile state and, like many, is locked in a realm of self-absorbed interpretations and adolescent observations.
Charlize Theron continues her excellent run as an actress by playing Mavis Gary. She lives in Minneapolis as a divorced ghost writer of a popular series of young adult (YA) books. She is 37 and is, whether she enjoys it or not, in a rut of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and drinking pop from the bottle. When she receives a birth announcement from her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), she decides to visit her hometown of Mercury to try to win him away from his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).
Mavis arrives in Mercury and predictably finds herself to be very above everything. She knows how to turn on the charm when needed. Prior to meeting Buddy, she runs into a former classmate named Matt (Patton Oswalt) and drunkenly informs him of her plans. Matt, disabled from a high school beating, becomes her unlikely companion throughout her quest to woo her old flame.
Theron brilliantly adds layer after layer to Mavis by the moment and her character grows incredibly complex. It’s not that we grow to dislike her, necessarily, but that we grow to pity her. She is so self-absorbed and obsessed with the notion of clinging to her “glory days” that she fails to really move on. She arrives in Mercury and looks down on everyone, unable to see Buddy’s happiness and sure of her view that he’s struggling to maintain his cool in a world of diapers and weird mom bands.
I’ve been critical of Cody’s work in the past, but in this outing her writing is quite good. She captures the elements of Mercury well, creating a town that is humble and seems kind of fun. Mavis’ growing disdain for the place actually makes it more likable, even as she succumbs to the Kentacohut’s cheesy allure. Interestingly, Cody writes Mercury as a place filled with inspiration – from the teenaged conversations in line at a fast food joint to the life of the fictional “Ryan.”
Cody and Reitman outline Mavis’ descent into disaster with all sorts of restraint. They play it close, so that you never really fully hate her until things pull too far. If the film has an error, and I believe it does, it’s that things twist too out of control in the final minutes. There is a yelling session on the lawn that, while played perfectly by Theron, feels somewhat overwritten. And the appearance of a quiet side character (Collette Wolfe) in the movie’s closing scene seems almost absurd in her proclamations of despair.
Nevertheless, Reitman’s Young Adult is a damn good movie. It works because Mavis isn’t melodramatic in her contempt and excessively ingenuous in her behaviours. She is completely credible, not a comic archetype but rather a contemptible vision of not quite getting it. Theron’s performance is easily one of the best of 2011 and Cody’s writing is as good as it’s ever been.
I shared this movie review and believe that this the is the target that most churches and outreaches are coping with. As I follow up Matthew’s excellent article about Men growing up and being responsible, let us not forget that 40 year old women are wearing pajamas to Walmart! GOD has provided answers…..wish both church members and the community would ask the question!!!!