Young Adult (2011)

Young Adult (2011) – As I have mentioned before, the films of Jason Reitman tend to take character would be unsympathetic (a tobacco lobbyist, a pregnant hipster teen, and a corporate hatchet man) and gets you almost root for them. Young Adult doesn’t quite follow that formula. Charlize Theron definitely plays an unlikable character but unlike the protagonists of Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air you are never really supposed to root for her. Theron is Mavis Gary. Mavis is divorced, in her thirties, and earns a living as the ghost writer of a Gossip Girl-esque young adult series of novels. She goes back to her hometown in Minnesota to win back her old high school boyfriend. Of course said ex-boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) is happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and has a newborn baby (some baby, or more likely two). Mavis also befriend Matt (Patton Oswalt). Matt has a bum leg from a severe hate crime beating he got in high school. He briefly got some sympathy as the victim of a hate crime, but that blew over when the media learned he wasn’t actually gay as his attackers believed.

The main strengths of the film are Theron and Oswalt. They both give performances that rank among the best of their careers. You know, watching his stand-up, I think Patton Oswalt is funny but he’s not a comic I would have imagined making such a successful transition to acting. Well, I failed to imagine correctly, because in role after role he keeps proving he’s got the chops. He’s amazing in this movie, and gives one of the best performances of the year. Theron has wowed us before, and she is in fine form as Mavis. She’s deeply unpleasant but she really sells that Mavis a woman who has deeper problems than she cares to admit.

Young Adult marks the reunion of Reitman with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody. In Juno she developed a sort of slang that identified that movie as taking place in kind of a world of its own. Cody’s follow-up, the horror film Jennifer’s Body, tried using the same weird lingo but it felt tired and out-of-place in  that film. That patois is missing from this film and Young Adult is better for it. Instead Cody has crafted a mature story of a woman’s early midlife crisis. Mavis is someone who seemed to have it all in high school and finds herself ill-served by the same skill set in her thirties. The movie seems to be headed for a certain arch, that most movies about this type of un-self-aware character would go for, then it takes a sort of left turn at the very last minute that’s a bold choice for the screenwriter. After Jennifer’s Body, I was willing to write Cody off as a one-hit wonder. Looks like as long as she’s paired with Reitman, good things will come. Young Adult might be Jason Reitman’s weakest film but that still leaves room for pretty high praise. This one is worth checking out.

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