Young Adult Critiques Perpetual Adolescence
- Friday, December 16, 2011
DVD Release Date: March 13, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: December 9, 2011 (limited); December 16, 2011 (wide)
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)
Run Time: 94 min.
Director: Jason Reitman
Actors: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt
CAUTION: This review includes references to and discussion of explicit content.
Are you tired of movies that celebrate never-ending adolescence? You know the movies I’m talking about—the ones where the chubby guys end up with the gorgeous gals despite the fact that they spend their days playing video games and their nights getting drunk. Maybe it starred Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill—talented comedic actors, but not exactly hunks.
One person who’s had enough of such movies is Diablo Cody, writer of Juno. Her latest script, Young Adult, shifts the protagonist from male to female, but it does much more than tell the same old tale from a different gender perspective. Instead, Cody has created a brassy character that viewers will find off-putting, to say the least. The very behaviors about arrested adolescence that movies tend to celebrate—the drinking, drugging and lusting—are, in Young Adult, seen as symptomatic of the protagonist’s deeper problems. It’s a message that sneaks up on you in Young Adult—part of a story that isn’t wholesome but which has an emotional honesty that’s all too rare for mainstream comedies.
Charlize Theron (The Road) stars as Mavis Gary, a divorced author of young adult (YA) fiction who has left her small town in Minnesota after hitting the big time. A personal crisis more dire than anything Mavis might invent arrives in the form of an e-mail announcing that her high-school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson, Morning Glory), is expecting his first child. The news stirs something within Mavis, who leaves her high-rise apartment with a gorgeous view of Minneapolis to return to her “hick” hometown and win back Buddy. Why wouldn’t he want her back?, Mavis wonders. She’s convinced she’s saving him from being “trapped with a wife and a kid, and some crappy job.”
The route into her hometown includes a Taco Bell, KFC and chain stores like Staples—there’s a new Chipotle on the way, too—all signaling to Mavis that she’s temporarily traded the independent vibe of city retailers for big-box, fast food blandness. So Mavis seeks out a local dive, where she runs into former high-school classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt). Hobbled since being attacked in high school by a group of jocks who thought he was gay, Matt cozies up to the gorgeous Mavis, eager to find out why she’s in town. It takes another meeting and a few more drinks with Matt before Mavis coughs up the real reason she’s returned home: to steal Buddy away from his wife (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1) and child (“babies are boring,” she says) and to resume their high-school relationship. “Love conquers all,” she tells Matt. “Haven’t you seen The Graduate?”
The signs of Mavis’ growing delusion are apparent to Matt, the movie’s voice of reason, when he first hears about her loopy plan. So he tries to persuade Mavis that her plan is ill-advised, gently chiding her while simultaneously giving off a sense of resignation that his pleas will go unheeded.
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