Young Adult Review

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Score

This new ‘comedy’ from the makers of Juno is, in fact, one of the strangest, darkest films of the year.

Young Adult isn’t what you’re expecting. It’s a funny one. Actually, it isn’t that funny at all. This new ‘comedy’ from the makers of Juno is, in fact, one of the strangest, darkest films of the year.

Just as she did in Jennifer’s Body, tattooed stripper-turned-award-winning-screenwriter Diablo Cody takes revenge on the hottest girl in high-school. And once again, it’s an immensely juicy idea that isn’t quite squeezed out.

Charlize Theron plays a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thirty-seven-year-old divorcee Mavis Gary lives alone in her messy Minneapolis apartment with a perpetual hangover and a revolving door of one-night stands. She used to be the high- school stunner. Now, 20 years later, she’s a busted flush who continues to relive her teenage wonder-years by ghost-writing a series of ‘young adult’ books.

It’s an email from her former high-school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), announcing the birth of his first child that sends Mavis running blindly into her mid-life crisis. Putting on her armour (make-up, nails, hair extensions), she decides to go on a quest to her hometown and ‘rescue’ her old beau from his marriage.

Buddy, a contented husband and father who’s happily oblivious to Mavis’ attempts at sozzled seduction, is one of just two other characters in director Jason Reitman’s film. The other is Mavis’ old classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt, the roly-poly stand-up who voiced Remy in Ratatouille), who she only remembers because he was horrifically beaten by jocks who accused him of being gay (“The hate-crime guy!”). Now a fat, broken nerd, he shuffles around on crutches and plays with toys in his bedroom.

Geddit? He’s still trapped in his teens like Mavis. They’re both crippled; her emotionally and him physically.This is the big problem with Cody’s screenwriting – you can see it on the page, written in block capitals. There’s too much in Young Adult that doesn’t feel real. Not least that Mavis exists on a daily diet of KFC and whiskey slammers but still looks like a shapely catalogue model.

Uneasy, unpleasant and uncompromising, Young Adult is a very hard film to like. For the bulk of the picture, Mavis futilely throws herself at Buddy (friendly but ambivalent) and inexplicably plays pseudo-friends with Matt (whom she treats with staggering callousness).

But this is a definite progression for Cody, who mixes up her self-aware sophistication with painful cringe-comedy.The dialogue is less slangy, less funny and – in the scenes between Mavis and Matt – terribly cruel. Drunk and delusional, Mavis is one of the most original lead characters we’ve seen for some time: empty, awful and frighteningly unable to emote. Theron plays her brilliantly, sinking completely into the mess of Mavis without ever looking for sympathy.

The climax is a brilliant, horrifying emotional car-crash, where Mavis’ fantasy world comes apart and we watch a woman finally come to terms with her wreck of a life. That’s Mavis’ short, brutal journey in Young Adult: from completely screwed to realising she’s completely screwed. There’s your happy ending.

Anticipation

Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron do a grown-up Juno.

4

Enjoyment

Whoa! What was that? This isn’t a comedy. This is a horror film.

2

In Retrospect

Daring and different but just way too dark.

3
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View 2 comments

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
"terribly cruel" check
"uneasy, unpleasant and uncompromising" check
"way too dark" check
but all this is precisely why I found Young Adult so very funny.
I also disagree that we see Mavis "finally come to terms with her wreck of a life". She just climbs back into that wreck and drives on. There was no grand disillusionment, no lesson learnt at all, as her last scene with Matt's sister makes clear. I reckon one of the real strengths of Cody's screenplay (and it has many strengths) is the way that it sets up the narrative for an all-too-conventional redemptive, even romantic, ending - and then wilfully withholds it. Some scars never heal. Life sucks. People can be awful - and awfully misguided. Ha ha ha!

brodie

2 years ago
I agree with Anton—the film is not hard to like (I loved it and am going to see it again), but the character is. This is a really brave role for Charlize Theron, and I think a lot of the criticisms to do with her character and her place in this film are purely because this is a difficult role to see a woman inhabiting. We've seen the Seth Rogens of the world play this stunted, oblivious man-child character countless times and it's never been received the same way Mavis (and to a lesser extent, Annie in Bridemaids) was. Women are expected to be put-together, compassionate and aware, and Mavis is none of those things which is what makes her such an interesting character to spend 90 minutes with.
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