Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Movie Review: Young Adult

Young Adult stars Charlize Theron as a deranged teen fiction novelist who returns to her hometown in northern Minnesota, fixated on stealing her high school boyfriend Buddy, away from his new baby and happy marriage. Although Theron is famously glamorous, with mile-long legs, luminous skin and a Christian Dior contract, her character Mavis is a bum. She parades around town in a saggy Hello Kitty t-shirt and grungy sweatpants, stringy hair pulled into a ponytail. Upon waking face down in the clothes she wore the day before, she guzzles Diet Coke straight from the bottle like a thirsty horse. Mavis has a drinking problem that is veering into serious alcoholism and compulsively pulls out her hair while watching television. The young adult series she's been ghost writing has come to the end of it's faddish popularity and she's trying to figure out what to do next.

Diablo Cody wrote this film, and her stamp is everywhere. The dark, mentally disturbed, but gorgeous anti-hero feels perfectly in line with her other work. She and director Jason Reitman make a great team, because this film has his touches of modern day American realism. The strip malls and cheezy chain restaurants aren't glossed over, because they are part of the story being told. This is the same world you and I live in, with people we might actually know. 

As Mavis tries to put her ham-fisted plan into action, she runs into someone else she and Buddy went to high school with. Matt (the brilliantly cast Patton Oswalt) is still the dork he was in high school, now an accountant at a local bar, busy perfecting an elaborate whiskey distillery in his garage and painting Star Wars action figures in his ample spare time. He's trying to forget the physical and emotional scars of an attack that happened their senior year, when a group of jocks jumped him, mangled him and left him for dead because they (wrongly) thought he was gay. Eventually most of the people in town forgot all about it, though the pain is still fresh for him. When Mavis drunkenly reveals her plan to him, he half-heartedly tries to stop her, but they are both lonely and in need of a drinking buddy. 

As the story unfolded, there were a few things that got in the way for me. One was Charlize Theron. She's beautiful even in her schlumpy clothes and her celebrity overshadows her considerable acting talent. I would have loved to see this part go to some lesser known actress who could help me sink deeply into the story for the entire film. The part of Buddy seemed forced, perhaps because he had the unhappy task of convincing us that he was uninterested in Charlize Theron. In order for the plot to move forward, Buddy has to show disinterest without registering obvious disgust at her mental illness. This allows her character to continue making her advances toward him, not realizing, or simply ignoring the fact that he doesn't want her. It didn't work well in my opinion- and the climactic confrontation scene felt contrived.  

 But most pressing of all is the problem of a resolution. Though Mavis doesn't get what she wants in the end, she doesn't appear to have learned much either. Perhaps that is the ultimate mark of Reitman's realism. Real life doesn't usually have tidy endings and dramatic, overnight personal transformation either. This dark little film gave me plenty to mull over in the days after watching it. I definitely enjoyed it.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Any suggestions on what to watch next? 

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