Young Adult Critiques Perpetual Adolescence
- Friday, December 16, 2011
It’s Oswalt who’s the heart of Young Adult, a representative of all those who don’t hit it big and who find themselves, years after graduating, still in their hometowns and working hard. Mavis remains a stunning beauty—the type a high-school guy doesn’t forget. But the mature Matt doesn’t put her on a pedestal. He’s happy to have a drink with her, but rather than imagine how he might worm his way into her life, he’s content to return home to his hobbies.
Mavis may not be completely oblivious to her own problems, but she’s also not self-aware enough to overcome them. She recognizes that she may be an alcoholic, but no sooner does that moment of honest self-assessment pass than she’s telling Buddy, “We can beat this thing together”—“this thing” being Buddy’s marriage. It takes a crowd of old acquaintances—parents, classmates and friends—to open Mavis’ eyes to how she’s seen by others: not as a beauty queen but as an object of pity in need of emotional help.
Young Adult is not a complete picture of Mavis’ needs—it has nothing to say about her spiritual needs—but the story’s clear-eyed view of Mavis as a deeply troubled individual in need of an intervention makes Young Adult one of the bravest studio movies in recent memory. Theron is spectacular as the self-deluded beauty Mavis, while Oswalt gives the film a grounded, everyman perspective, skillfully undermining the audience’s tendency to view his character, not Theron’s, as pitiful.
Cody’s script is the glue that holds everything together. Teaming with director Jason Reitman for their first project together since Up in the Air, she delivers a story that offers much more than just a female take on a traditionally male-dominated narrative. Young Adult shows the downside of arrested development and of society’s skewed view that our high-school years are the best times of our lives. In that sense, Young Adult is a grown-up movie for grown-up viewers, and a wake-up call for people who believe the best years of their lives are behind them.
It’s a good enough message to make you not care too much when, in Young Adult, the chubby guy gets the girl.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; several uses of the “f”-word; several references to Matt’s damaged penis; “crappy”; “a-s”; gay slur; discussion of masturbation and orgasm; “b-tch”; “s-it”; “p-ss”; an all-female rock band goes by the name "Nipple Confusion."
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Characters drink at bars, restaurants and elsewhere; Mavis says she might be an alcoholic; smoking in bar scenes; Mavis briefly sniffs glue; Matt drinks, but tries to keep Mavis from drinking too much and doing regrettable things; musical reference to drugs; drunk driving; a home-based liquor-making operation.
- Sex/Nudity: Shots of Mavis on her bed, in night clothes; cleavage; Mavis removes breast cups from under bra; later, she stands exposed, cups covering her breasts and underwear on; Mavis wakes up in bed with a man she’s met and had a drink with; Mavis kisses Buddy and tells his wife she used to sleep in his boxers and t-shirts; she reminisces about the first time she performed oral sex on Buddy; discussion of out-of-wedlock pregnancy; two people start to have sex on a bed, the man still in his underwear and covering the woman’s nakedness beneath him.
- Violence/Crime: Matt was the victim of a purported hate crime after being assaulted as a high-schooler by jocks, but once he let it be known that he wasn’t gay, the crime was reclassified.
- Marriage: Mavis views marriage and parenthood as an undesirable burden.
- Religion: Buddy invites Mavis to his baby’s naming ceremony, but explains that it’s “not religious or anything.”
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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