Friday, December 23, 2011

Young Adult (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Desperately trying to recapture her youth through ghostwriting a once-popular series of young adult novels, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) doesn't realize how desperate she is. When she discovers her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has just had a baby with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) she heads back to her small hometown to try and rekindle their romance. The more she interacts with her old classmates- especially Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a bitter nerd with a crushed leg-, the clearer it becomes that she is mentally unstable and a blatant alcoholic.

Unapologetically acerbic, Young Adult is a dark comedy that manages to feel utterly realistic in its portrayal of a former bitchy prom queen who can't move past her high school perspective. This isn't a quest for self-fulfillment or some wayward daughter goes home and learns life lessons-type tale. This is a brutal, mean look at a woman in her late thirties who continues to sneer contemptuously at everyone who wasn't cool in high school, and finds most of her actions vindicated by the people around her. No one is brave enough to tell Mavis she really needs some help, except for Matt, whose biting observations are laced with sarcasm and never taken seriously by their target. Their dialogue is hilarious both in its wit and mean honesty, though sometimes it was weird to laugh with these characters while simultaneously feeling sorry for how ignorant they are of everything. Diablo Cody tones down the quirk and even pokes some fun at teenspeak, adding a self-referential element that I appreciated.

Charlize Theron is kind of awesomely crazy in this movie. She hides her crackling mental state behind a condescending stare and self-important air. I loved the attention given to her beauty routine, lending the portrayal a rawness that I think would surprise some viewers (I know the two guys who saw this with me were somewhat awed by the concept of all-over foundation and various other layers of make-up she applied). Patton Oswalt, who's the main reason I even saw this film, is his usual excellent self. He's funny and a total jerk and it's great and I hope he wins awards. Also the most important casting news is that Collette Wolf of 100 Questions fame is in this! Oh snap! 100 Questions, my favorite tv show that's also the worst show ever made!

Young Adult is at times tough to watch, but ultimately I enjoyed its cynical take on lapsed maturity. It's not perfect, of course, as Reitman's minimalist direction sometimes keeps the story from progressing and I found Patrick Wilson sort of weak in his performance. And I know Mavis as a character is polarizing, but while I found her to be pretty awful I loved that she at the very least stayed true to herself in her awfulness.


Pair This Movie With: I was sort of reminded of Margot at the Wedding, what with the depiction of a totally unlikable protagonist and annoying people surrounding her.


  1. Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review Alex.

  2. Good review Alex, I'm looking forward to seeing this. Cody and Reitman make an especially good creative team.

  3. I can't wait to see this one, and your review makes me even more eager to see it. It may be a personal failing but I enjoyed "Margot At The Wedding" and didn't even find Margot all that unlikeable, compared to all the other people in the movie.