Saturday, December 17, 2011

Young Adult

My review of Young Adult is in this week's WE.


Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt
Directed by Jason Reitman

Depending on which side of twee you fall, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s acclaimed debut, Juno, was the love-it-or-loathe-it film of 2007. Their acid-tongued, gut-punch follow-up, Young Adult, is an entirely different beast — though likely no less divisive.

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis, a 30-something mess of a woman who managed to prolong her high school glory years by ghostwriting a popular teenage book series. But the books have fallen out of fashion — no vampires — and Mavis can’t crack writing the series finale. Luckily, a distraction arrives: her happily married high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), sends a group email blast about his new baby, prompting Mavis to return home — beautiful and blond with big city glamour — to win him back.

The reunion doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. Buddy’s now a small-town dad who loves family-friendly restaurants and his bland, big-box existence. But Mavis is hellbent on seducing him, much to the chagrin of fellow barfly Matt (Patton Oswalt), the schlub she can barely remember despite being locker neighbours for four years. Two decades later, Matt’s still notorious as the guy who survived a vicious beating by jock assholes his senior year and Mavis is still the psycho bitch prom queen who “should” be happy but isn’t. They’re kindreds in arrested development and the reason why Young Adult resonates so deeply, despite its bitter surface.

In less capable hands, Mavis could be terribly one-note, but Theron fills out the edges of her character’s abhorrent behaviour, bringing Mavis to a believable breaking point where she briefly lets her barbed-wire guard down. It’s a fascinating performance, and Oswalt matches her every move, particularly in a devastating monologue as Matt recounts his horrific attack.

In a traditional movie, this moment would mark Mavis’ breakthrough, her grand catharsis where she starts to finally heal. That ain’t Young Adult’s style. The film’s beauty is that when it finally offers a glimpse of her fractured soul, it just as quickly snaps shut again. It’s not interested in a big emotional reckoning or tidy resolution. Rather, Young Adult knows all too well the frustrating truth about growing up — most of the time it’s two steps forward, one step back. — Andrea Warner

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