Movie Review: Young Adult (2011)
High school: You either loved it or you hated it. If you were a star athlete, gorgeous cheerleader, or the kid who had an open house and unmatched access to alcohol, I’m sure you’ve nothing but fond memories. Personally, as a dork, I don’t miss it in the slightest, yet, embarrassingly enough, I still wonder about who landed in jail or who’s raising a child in the backseat of a dilapidated van. Fortunately, sparing me the effort of masterminding elaborate stories for each student, Young Adult, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s first collaboration since the critically-acclaimed Juno, explores what happens to the “cool kids” when they’re propelled into the real-world.
Stuck on the times of no regrets, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) makes a living ghostwriting pulpy tween romances. Having escaped a hick town, she lives isolated in an unkempt apartment in Minneapolis — her only company being an adorable Pomeranian named Dolce. Insecure and depressed, the author spends her days swishing vodka and diet Coke, watching reality television, sleeping, shopping, and obsessing over Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), an old flame that’s since burnt out. But after finding out that he’s now married and a father, she returns home to rekindle their romance, ignoring the obvious challenges. During this trip, Gary runs into her disgruntled ex-schoolmates: Including Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who was crippled by jocks who suspected he was gay, and Mary Trantowski (Kate Nowlin), who remembers Mavis as a “psychotic prom queen bitch.”
Advertised as the long-awaited reunion between Cody and Reitman, there isn’t a directorial flair, and unlike “Juno,” Young Adult rides entirely on the backs of its writing and performances. Fortunately, in spite of a few flaws, they’re enough. Once again, the Jennifer’s Body scribe utilizes idiosyncratic characters, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and relatable situations, to craft a potent dramedy. However, while most of the interplay is sharp, there are dull moments. In addition, it’s unclear as to if some conversations were meant to be taken seriously (i.e., when Freehauf awkwardly describes his mangled penis). Furthermore, the film occasionally stumbles on the same clichés it satirizes (like a contrived — and totally expected — fling between Mavis and Matt), but thankfully, it never fully relies on them.
Having won an Oscar for her performance in Monster and enjoyed a nod for her role in North Country, Theron’s career has also had its share fair of misfires. For many, the talent has become typical Hollywood eye-candy. But here the casting turned out brilliantly. Retaining her signature good looks, she aces in portraying the comedic ignorance her character basks in. And Charlize has an indescribable charisma: Likability that transcends Gary’s detestable actions and wild behavior. For that, she’s being compared to Diaz in Bad Teacher — another film marketed for its world-weary female lead — but Theron is less crass and a lot more realistic. Plus she has no trepidations in appearing without make-up — a bold move considering her status as a sex symbol.
However her co-stars aren’t as exciting. Oswalt is stiff (and not just because he’s forced to use a leg brace), while Wilson always looks dull and uninterested. Luckily Elizabeth Reaser, who plays Mrs. Slade, and Elizabeth Ward Land, who has a short stint as a Macy’s saleswoman, are two of the cast’s saving graces.
Still, Young Adult should satisfy most audiences. But, in a way, it’s like the parties Mavis desperately reminisces on: While some moments resonate, a lot of it becomes blurry by the next day.