Title: Young Adult
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe
Mavis Gary might not have grown up in the least, but Diablo Cody has achieved an incredible degree of maturity in her latest piece, Young Adult. While Young Adult exudes a different type of comedy as compared to Juno and most certainly Jennifer’s Body, it still maintains the zest, heart and humor that solidified Cody as a top-notch screenwriter back in 2007.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a successful young adult writer living in the big city of Minneapolis, Minnesota – well, a once successful ghostwriter. Not only is Mavis’ name not branded on the cover of her books, but the Waverly Prep series is on the decline, Mavis currently attempting to fulfill her assignment of penning the final installment. Meanwhile, her love life has gone to crap. Rather than buckle down and get her work done, Mavis is consumed by her dismal love life. A recent divorcee, Mavis is convinced the cure to her romantic problems resides in her tiny hometown of Mercury, her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).
On a thoughtless whim, Mavis packs her bag, shoves her pocketbook dog Dolce in his bag and hops in her Mini Cooper to win back her man. The problem is that man is now married with a wife he loves and a newborn baby. But why should that stop Mavis? When she isn’t drinking herself silly with former high school loser Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), she’s making moves on Buddy, regardless of the circumstances.
Young Adult is a character piece to the max, and that’s what’s so fantastic about it. Mavis is an endlessly intriguing specimen. She’s partially a put together big city success, but that side of her is corroded with greed, selfishness and immaturity. The combination is particularly volatile and while that makes Mavis a character to keep an eye on, Cody still manages to maintain a degree of restraint, never letting Mavis stray too far from who she really is.
Then again, this woman is really capable of just about anything. Mavis has no filter whatsoever and in Diablo Cody land, that can only mean one thing – a slew of quotable dialogue. But, like Ellen Page back in Juno, it’s Theron’s performance that really sells the character. Theron has no trouble embracing a bad girl, but then again, she still manages to earn the slightest bit of compassion. Sometimes it can be difficult to detach Theron from Mavis, but in this case, that likeness works. Not that Theron is even the slightest bit like Mavis in reality, but there’s something about seeing this gorgeous woman guzzle liters of Diet Coke first thing in the morning, trounce around in Hello Kitty t-shirts, chug obscene amounts of alcohol, say some of the most putrid things and live in an absolute pigsty that earns empathy whether or not she really deserves it.
So, we’ve got this one primarily deplorable character at the helm; how is it possible to like Young Adult? Say hello to Patton Oswalt. Now, Matt Freehauf is the guy that really deserves that sympathy. Back in high school, the jocks accused him of being gay and took it upon themselves to beat him so badly that he’s physically disabled, but still, Matt remains in Mercury and becomes Mavis’ best buddy during her stay. The two have a particularly interesting relationship; Matt somewhat still worships her as the high school hotty she used to be, but, at the same time, he pities her, not only because her plan to steal back her now married boyfriend is absolutely ludicrous, but Matt’s a notably perceptive character and is one of few who can really see right through Mavis, something that really helps flesh out both characters.
In the supporting department, we have a number of notable entries. Wilson makes for an excellent former ex, but basically lays dormant until the latter portion of the film. At times his passivity with Mavis can be a bit frustrating, but, how else would a nice guy handle this type of situation? However, when the time comes to put his foot down, Buddy takes a strong stand. Then there’s Reaser as Buddy’s wife. Perhaps it’s because Young Adult is arriving so soon after the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, but Reaser breathes such a surprisingly incredible degree of life into such a minimal character, it makes the performance unforgettable. Then there’s Collette Wolfe as Sandra, Matt’s sister. Sandra appears in, I believe, a mere two scenes, but one of those is easily the film’s best. It’s oozing with incredible writing and performances and is basically the twist of the movie, yet comes across with such an amazing level of honesty.
Personally, I quite enjoyed both Juno and Jennifer’s Body, but can see how others might feel Jennifer’s Body pushed the snarky teen tone a bit too far. Well, no matter which side you ended up on with that one, Young Adult should impress as it finds this wonderfully fresh feeling middle ground. It maintains that now notable Diablo Cody voice, but infused with a ripeness, making it just as enjoyable, but perhaps a bit more realistic than something like Jennifer’s Body. On the technical side, director Jason Reitman simply nails it. As usual, it’s as though he doesn’t even exist, managing to make you feel as though you’re experiencing the film rather than watching a story he’s trying to tell. The editing is quite tight, maintaining a fantastic pace and then Rolfe Kent’s score serves its purpose, heightening emotion, but never becoming intrusive.
Cody and Reitman are simply a match made in heaven. Cody has a knack for creating these wildly amusing yet honest characters and then Reitman has a way of bringing them to life in the most unassuming way imaginable. And then, of course, the casting couldn’t be more on point. Young Adult is really the product of a particularly extraordinary assembly of filmmakers and the result is a joy to watch, delivering loads of frank humor and real emotion.