Film Review – Young Adult
Remember that one girl in school that everyone hated? She was the popular girl with the hot boyfriend that everyone felt was destined for great things? In Young Adult, Mavis (Charlize Theron) was this girl, and she has never really gotten over the high school life entirely. Her job is writing young adult books about a popular girl in high school, so she has been able to live this part of her life over and over in her head. Beyond that, her days are spent getting drunk and keeping herself beautiful and fit.
Now, the book series is getting canceled and she is having trouble writing the ending, plus her lifestyle is keeping her isolated since the only companionship she seems to have is her dog. She is not in a happy place. So when she gets an email telling her that her ex-boyfriend from high school, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), just had a baby with his wife, she takes it upon herself to liberate him from the trappings of fatherhood and marriage to be with her, his one true love.
There are many cringe-worthy sequences as Mavis tries to cozy up to Buddy, never realizing how ridiculous she looks and how oblivious he is to what she is doing. It is obvious he loves his wife; she is shown to be a good person, working with children with mental problems, but she also rocks out in a band with other moms. She is loving and caring but also has a sense of adventure. She is there for us to know there is no way Buddy would leave her. Because the idea is so set, there is a predictability to the story, leaving less room for the film to grow. It is in the characters that the movie makes its strongest mark.
Mavis is presented as a girl who has never grown up, but there is a deeper issues here; yes, she is shallow and is still stuck in a high school mentality, but she did not get there alone. When she is with her parents, we see they obviously have made no attempt to help her. Even when she is admitting her problems, saying straight out that she is an alcoholic, her mother just dismisses it as if that is just silly of her. Her parents also seem at a loss when she says to take down an old marriage picture of her and her ex-husband Alan. They seem to think that makes no sense. She has obviously been on her own emotionally for some time, and it makes sense that she seeks Buddy out as the last connection she really had, even if that is ill-advised.
Mavis does start to connect, though, with an old classmate she used to ignore named Matt (Patton Oswalt). His big claim to fame in high school was getting beaten up for being gay and left with a limp leg and issues with his privates. Though he actually wasn’t gay, it has has left many to believe he is and he has fallen into almost as dark a hole as Mavis. He, like her, is a cynical, dark person, enjoying drinking and annoyed by cheerful people.
Mavis’s interactions with Matt are where the movie is at its best and shows Mavis has the ability to feel for others. It could be said that she is just using him, as an easy way to score booze (he has his own brewery in his garage), but both of them see in each other very quickly someone who is a kindred spirit; both are deeply unhappy and have very cynical viewpoints of the world. While they can feed into each other’s darker beliefs, they also make very candid observations about each other. Matt, from the start, tells Mavis that her plan for Buddy is foolish, but she can also counter him, for still holding on to the attack that happened to him in high school. They are both stuck in high school, though in different ways, and they do in their own ways try to force the other to see this. It usually involves being drunk and yelling, but they have no reason to tell each other this if all they want is a booze buddy or someone to yell at. There is caring; it isn’t the hugging and crying kind, but it is there.
Director Jason Reitman continues his streak. This is his fourth movie now and, so far, he has never made a bad film. While this is not his strongest piece of work, Reitman shows a continued talent for interesting characters, be it the scummy lobbyist, the emotionally uninvolved professional firer, and now the bitchy high school girl who can’t let go. Reitman finds a way to get us into these “bad” people’s worlds and make us feel for them, though in very different ways. Re-teaming with Diablo Cody from Juno fame, she shows that she is not a one-hit wonder; while the story itself has a predictability in its structure, she still has a gift for interesting characters. Especially Mavis and Matt, whose bantering is the highlight of the film, avoiding the hip dialogue that made Juno work and taking on a darker cynical humor. Both Reitman and Cody are trying new things and doing quite well, because they never forget that no matter what the subject is, you need interesting characters. May they never forget that.
Final Grade: B+