Young Adult (2011)

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is an egotistical ghost writer living in Minneapolis (or the Mini Apple as it was known back in the day), where she is struggling to meet her deadlines and finish the final instalment in the flagging young adult series, Waverly Prep. Having received an e-mail informing her of the recent birth of high school sweetheart Buddy Slade’s (Patrick Stewart) first child, Mavis packs up her long-suffering Pom Pom and writers block and heads home to Mercury, Minnesota, in a misguided attempt to win back Buddy’s affections. With nothing to do on her first night in town, Mavis returns to her adolescent watering hole for a drink, bumping into a disabled boy (Patton Oswalt) from school who she initially fails to recognise.

Reuniting the writer and director of 2007’s Juno, Young Adult is an altogether darker take on the age-old coming of age story. Now in her 30s, Theron’s Mavis is practically the opposite of Ellen Page’s spunky post-modern heroine: immature, irresponsible and backward thinking. Apparently accused of having a stunted adolescent fixation herself, Diablo Cody has subverted the kinds of characters she had previously written for Juno and Jennifer’s Body, relegating the stylised dialogue and overall hipness to the pages of Mavis’ own books, leaving her protagonist vulnerable to a scathing commentary on self-obsession.

With Keeping Up With The Kardashians a permanent fixture on her transient TV, and her vocabulary a Frankenlingua of phrases plucked from an imagined younger generation, Mavis Gary has forced her life into a one-woman reality show. She is completely egocentric, abusing the once popular Waverly Prep series as it is unceremoniously transformed into a warped representation of her own life. It is certainly a difficult watch. Although punctuated by a number of great gags and witty lines, for the most part it is a case of watching Theron self-destruct and hoping that at least somebody makes it out alive. It’s like a less overt Fatal Attraction, but one where you’re supposed to root for the bunny boiler.

Strangely, Young Adult acts almost as a sister film to director Jason Reitman’s previous Oscar contender Up In The Air: introducing a natural loner who is given every chance to change. With Reitman refusing to give all of the answers, having created characters that are far too complex to ever truly live happily ever after, he has delivered another heartbreaking character study. Having listened to one song – “their” song – on repeat for decades, the moment Mavis hears Buddy’s wife beat it out as part of a mother’s rock quartet is absolutely devastating; her thoughts clouded behind confused eyes as she struggles to rationalise events in accordance with the delusion that she and Buddy belong together.

Also suffering from Golden Age Syndrome (it’s not quite so romantic now, is it Woody Allen?) is Matt Freehauf, a restaurant worker who has refused to move on after having his legs broken and his groin mangled by bullies at his and Mavis’ school. Although boasting greater insight into Mavis’ condition than she is ever likely to hold of his, Matt’s own life at home with his sister hybridising action figures is no more healthy. Even the film’s resolution, as Mavis is finally forced to challenge her perceptions, is deeply flawed, her conversation with Matt’s ghostly sister resorting to girly bitching and yet more delusions of grandeur.

Young Adult is a film which has great emotional resonance and almost universal depth. Everyone exaggerates their own importance – it’s part of what makes us human, helping us cope with the avoidable futility of life – and therefore everyone will find themselves reflected in Theron’s Mavis – some inevitably more than others. That the character is so beautifully acted, poignantly written and relentlessly realised only adds to the film’s power. It’s just a pity, then, that there’s still something missing. That said, this is Theron’s movie and focus elsewhere would hardly have been true to Reitman and Cody’s lead character.

While the trailer makes it look to some extent like some thankless cross between Bad Teacher and some hateful Judd Apatow comedy, Young Adult is in fact a layered, insightful and deeply affecting deconstruction of pop culture’s depiction of both youth and happiness. Funny, poignant and jarringly unresolved, this is the strongest proof we confirmation to date that Diablo Cody is the writer of her generation.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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