By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reamer and Patton Oswalt
High school is a time that, whether we know it or not, is the start of whom we will grow up to be in our adult life. Glorious tales of being the prom queen, big man on campus, and guy who scores the winning touchdown in a state football championship are generally physical and emotional realities that happen around this time. The question that arises once we graduate and grab our diploma, of course, is whether or not we grow from the people we were around this time and turn into the person we will become. Or, will we be this same person trying to relive that high school glory for the rest of our lives?
Young Adult is a dramedy that tells the tale of a guy who has grown up, and a girl who refuses to. It marks the reteaming of director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, who worked magic and created a much-repeated dialogue phenomenon with their Oscar winning collaboration Juno. Here, instead of a preteen mother, our protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your outlook) is successful on the outside, miserable on the inside young adult novelist Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), who even though she has moved to Minneapolis from her small Minnesota town and has had books published, isn’t selling well nowadays and spends most of her mornings waking up face-down on her bed next to her cute as a button friend: a pet Pomeranian. One day, she receives an email announcing the new arrival of the new baby girl in the life of her old high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Wilson). Refusing to believe he has moved on from their high school relationship, Gary takes her car & dog on a road trip to her old hometown to rekindle the flame she believes is still lit.
Implausible? Well, maybe a little. Why would she receive this email after being away from her hometown for so long? But Reitman knows how to portray real people, and Theron’s performance is what makes her character seem real. Now, whether real means alcohol binging, heavily into herself pre-teen book novelist isn’t really the question. She also displays a wide range of looks in the film. When we meet her, she looks as haggard as she did at any point of time during her Oscar winning performance in Monster. But, when trying to woo Wilson’s character of Slade, Theron turns into the wide range beauty we know her as. And, while the chemistry between her and Wilson is very off and on, where the film’s real revelation comes is during the scenes between her and the character of the “fat geek” from high school Matt Freehauf, played by comedian Oswalt. Their chemistry sizzles off the screen, running the range of emotions from funny, to hilarious, to even heartbreaking. Whether it is with hilarity or being the guy who always says the right insightful pieces of advice that Gary refuses to listen to, Oswalt is excellent in this part. I must say, I never thought that Oswalt would ever be this likable, but Cody’s dialogue, coupled with Reitman’s sharp as a tack direction, make you really feel for his standing in life, and scenes of him walking with his cane through the woods behind the park are both heart breaking and funny at the same time, which is a tough thing to accomplish.
Speaking of the dialogue, screenwriter Diablo Cody proves with this script that she was not a flash in the pan writer. After winning the Oscar for Juno, Cody boldly went horror for 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, which was a box office and critical flop and made her looked at as a once off that got lucky. Now, whether it was because you had Megan Fox spitting out her lines in that movie or the direction, Cody shows here that she in fact knows how to tell a story. Sure, there are still scenes of girls in a fast food restaurant throwing her dialogue around trying to feel hip, but Cody has surrounded her admittedly implausible story with a combination of likable characters and funny dialogue that moves the movie along, not stops it in its tracks. There are also references to films from The Graduate, the Twilight series of books, and all the way to Star Wars, which once again enhance the characters that spit them out, not point the finger at them. While Reitman deserves a lot of credit for this, so does Cody for writing a sharp script.
The big challenge here is making a movie revolve around the character of Mavis Gary, with her pursuit and way of living making her about as unlikable as you can get. But, Theron brings out the best in her, and it isn’t until a very well acted scene in front of Buddy’s house that we feel a hint of sympathy for her. Now, the unbelievability that Buddy or his wife (Reamer) could not have seen this plot sooner is one of the few flaws that keeps this film from being the better of the two Reitman/Cody collaborations. But, I would argue that Young Adult is the more mature. And, combined with the chemistry between Theron & Oswalt, is a story that, in many ways, is a look towards the future. How each of us view it as either a step back, or a step forward. Plus, I would beg to differ that it also contains two of the most uncomfortable love scenes ever put to film. And, that is saying a lot about a film that has Theron.
4 out of 5