MOVIE REVIEW: Young Adult
Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson
Bad attitude is the currency of cool in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, a defense mechanism used to justify individual delusions and alienate collective mainstream taste. In this sense, Young Adult is a fast-talking tragedy in comedy’s clothing, one that uses a character’s foul mouth to push personal embarrassment and resentment into the public fold for maximum effect. Written to within an inch of its life by scribe Diablo Cody, Young Adult centers on a hack ghostwriter from Minneapolis named Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) who has just reached the end of a semi-successful contract penning a Twilight-esque young adult series. Facing the panic of imminent inconsequence and a downgrade in social status, Mavis suddenly decides to return to the mid-western town of her birth and win back a high school sweetheart now married with children, all in an effort to erase a feeling of dwindling emotional security.
This rash decision to leave her urban domicile and reenter the lion’s den of rural boredom is given such poor context by Cody’s showy script that it makes Mavis look downright impulsive, if not mentally ill, right from the very start. The only inciting factor for the sudden shift is an email from former boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his first-born child. But this is more than enough reason for Mavis, who can’t stop pin balling from one confrontational conversation to the next. After recycling a 1990’s mix-tape on the ride back to the sticks, Mavis cruises into town driving a flashy Mini-cooper and immediately starts judging the local color based on appearance and past memories. This trend that defines her surprisingly nuanced interactions with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), an old acquaintance who was crippled in high school by a gang of jocks who thought him to be gay.
Young Adult works best when it lingers on Mavis’s weathered face in the light of day, usually after a hard night of drinking and smoking. Here, we see a depressive self-image that can’t be hidden by layers of makeup or jive-talking banter. Details of banality also provide fitting insight to Mavis’s experience, like the fingerprint smudges on her laptop screen, or the broken fender of her crashed car, sobering truths for a film that blesses the art of repression. As Mavis ingratiates herself back into Buddy’s life, a motif that crescendos at a disastrous “naming ceremony” on his front lawn, Young Adult grows from casually awkward to incredibly perplexing. Are we supposed to be surprised by Mavis’s blatantly delusional status during this very public meltdown? Is there any hope Mavis will realize the breadth of her harmful actions?
This question and more are completely disavowed during Young Adult’s ridiculously contrived final sequence, which basically brings the film’s congratulatory themes of arrogance and self-indulgence full circle in the worst possible way. Mavis’ plight has been one long pity party, a meager reiteration of smug judgment felt by a lead character that could care less. By the end credits, it’s clear that Reitman and Cody think a bad attitude is all you need to find your terrible true self again.