Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins
Release Date: December 9, 2011
PLOT: Former prom queen turned ghostwriter Mavis (Theron) returns to her quaint homeland of Mercury, Minnesota to win back the high school sweetheart who got away and then got married, Buddy Slade (Wilson).
WHO’S IT FOR?: Teenagers of the ’90s, and fans of either Reitman or writer Diablo Cody. Seniors in high school now should especially see this in order to get a sense of what their social status really adds up to after graduation. How wonderful it would be if Young Adult could cure a few Mavis Gary’s before this becomes a variation on their inevitable autobiography.
EXPECTATIONS: Considering this is the reuniting of the duo that made Juno, I was curious as to what kind of attitude Young Adult would have. Was it going to be snarky? And what’s this buzz I hear about concerning Patton Oswalt’s performance? And what was Jason Reitman going to explore next after having made the striking Up in the Air?
Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary: We love our villains, and we love our wrecks. We also empower the popular girl in school, whether we really know it or not. Theron’s Mavis, another Monster to the actress’ resume, covers all three categories to make for an exquisite, delusional b*tch. Mavis is a challenging yet delicious nightmare, a head-first portrayal of the girl whose mind is wandering the high school hallways, if it isn’t literally trapped there. She is represented earnestly and with devilish thrill by Theron, who makes all of the prom queen’s ugly moments, of which they are many, highly watchable.
Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf: This is a good victory for the comedian who deserved a little more attention for his work in the indie Big Fan. Embodying the nerd who never left town, because he physically couldn’t, Oswalt is a solid opposite to Mavis, which makes their time together memorable. Oswalt succeeds in delivering a couple of solid monologues that are filled with anguish more than the desire to make audiences cry. Matt Freehauf, with a little help from Buddy Slade, helps us understand all the other classmates of Mavis that aren’t shown on-screen.
Patrick Wilson as Buddy Slade: Joining the ranks of other naive dorks created by Cody, (say hello to Paulie Bleeker and Chip Dove, Buddy) Wilson’s character is possibly too naive as the target of Mavis’ attention. His conversations with Mavis are at first highly amusing, as they have consistent completely different interpretations of small talk. However, eventually Buddy’s cluelessness to Mavis’ ultimate scheme is strikingly unrealistic; it’s the one part of Young Adult that doesn’t ring true. Perhaps Buddy is this way to serve a purpose, to keep Mavis’ scheme running, but it’s at his expense of being a believable character.
TALKING: For those hesitant that this movie would spew the “quirky” dialogue that made Juno and even more so Jennifer’s Body polarizing, fear no longer. There’s no snap to this new batch of Cody conversations, which is relieving (considering this story, at least). Instead, Young Adult rings with pure dialogue within honest conversations. Mavis provides a voice-over throughout the film, which is made up of chronological excerpts from the story that she’s writing. There’s no voice-over to be heard from the mind of Mavis herself; Mavis the human being is a person running out of ideas. Cody, on the other hand, is not.
SIGHTS: Steered by characters and dialogue, Young Adult puts visual prominence secondary as an immediate requirement, but nonetheless elaborates on the environment in which such a story takes place. It’s the small things that show how well director Reitman is in touch with the 2011 Midwest zeitgeist, from scenes filmed inside dual fast food restaurants, to the occasional cameo of a Kardashian via Mavis’ reality TV habits. (Even a brief shot of Mavis’ visitation to dating site OkCupid rings true). Although Young Adult does feature a great amount of product placement, the appearance of such entities is used to honestly replicate the thoroughly commercial environment that can swallow an entire Midwestern town.
SOUNDS: The Young Adult soundtrack creates a retro musical atmosphere with groups like the Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., and Veruca Salt. While no modern pop music seems to be heard throughout the entire movie, Diana Ross’ “When We Grow Up” gets the last word in as it plays during the film’s credits, contributing a strange juxtaposition to everything else heard in the movie. It’s certainly a strong difference to “The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub, which is given prominent usage in the film. It’s bound to be gloriously stuck in your head for days afterward. For the film’s score, Mateo Messina plays unusual instrumental covers of emblematic songs by Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, and Beck.
BEST SCENE: Before ditching Mercury, Mavis is re-entitled by someone who is also convinced that their life fate had been determined by their high school social status. This scene is incredible. It is so sad, so disturbing, and so honest.
ENDING: This is taffy in the category of “food for thought” endings. Not in the sense of its literal meaning, but rather what it is saying about the “power” Mavis has, and always will have.
QUESTIONS: How much did Reitman tinker with the script? I can’t imagine he did much. And how exactly did Mavis get her job as a writer? A reluctant college degree? By chance? Seems like something that we should know.
REWATCHABILITY: A second viewing of Young Adult caused me to like it more; Theron’s character was more deviously delightful, and even the film’s ending felt less like a shoulder-shrug, as it had during round one.
Your high school’s “psycho prom queen b*tch” didn’t just miss the reality check of growing up, she got “famous” for reveling in her delusions by writing a book series. That’s the latest high school nightmare from writer Diablo Cody, who’s at the front of this story just as much as a note-worthy performance from Charlize Theron. Director Jason Reitman, usually more present in his stories, lets the script speak for itself, treating it more like his recent popular L.A open table script readings than a direct-message movie like Up in the Air.
Even in her darker days, (Jennifer’s Body, really) Cody remains thoughtful about a subject that she is so enamored with – high school. And Reitman always has such a sincere connection with the ordinary world. This makes for a touching combination with Young Adult, a movie that fondly looks back in order to understand the present. It’s a film that consistently rings true to so many life factors: the everlasting impression of high school cliques, the evolution of suburbia, and even our own fears concerning what to do with our lives. Even with Patrick Wilson’s naive sacrifice of a character, there’s not a scene in Young Adult that doesn’t ring with striking and hilarious honesty.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10