MOVIE REVIEW: Young Adult
YOUNG ADULT-- 3 STARS
All of us who went to high school (or watched enough high school movies, from Rebel Without a Cause all the way to Mean Girls and Easy A) remember all too well the social competition and stereotype bullying of our formative years spent there. Most of us grow up to be different people and responsible, married, career-minded adults, but we all know someone from our high school days that never took that train to adulthood. We all know the real purpose of high school reunions, going back our hometowns after moving on, and even following old classmates on Facebook is to see if the high school bitch is still the bitch, the queen bee of gossip is still the queen bee of gossip, or if the high school stud quarterback is still a stud. Good-intentioned or not, we all fall for the demented temptation to either show up someone who spurned us then or show that we turned out more successful that they did.
Former Mercury, Minnesota high school prom queen Mavis Gary (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) is coming back home for both of those two reasons. Living alone in the big city of Minneapolis (or "Mini-apple" to the Mercurians), Mavis is a 37-year-old divorced, alcoholic ghost writer of young adult fiction novels, who watches way too much E! channel, buys fancy clothes, wears too much makeup, and spoils her prissy dog Dolce. While checking her e-mail one morning, she receives a mass e-mail forward of a birth announcement from her hometown. As it turns out, her old high school stud flame, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) is happily married to a nice girl (Elizabeth Reaser) and they just had their first child. At first, the message irks Mavis, but it ends up spurring the delusion that she can waltz back home and sweep Buddy out of there.
Packing her tramp clothes into her Mini Cooper, she sets off to Mercury to pull off her plan, flaunting her supposed success as an "author." Clearly turning up her nose to her old hometown, she thinks this will be quick work, only to find Buddy deeply rooted at home. To Mavis, it's just a matter of time that his beer goggles will chose her flash over hometown normalcy. Along the way, she runs into fellow classmate Matt Freehauf (the perfect Patton Oswalt), a chubby loner who still walks with a crutch from a bad high school hazing incident that he's never completely shaken, both physically and in reputation. As a straight-shooter and fellow loner, they form an unlikely bond that reveals all of our character's little issues and problems along the way.
Written by Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, Young Adult is definitely dark comedy. Mavis is not a character you root for. The laughs are more embarrassing and cruel than they are chipper. As you will see, Mavis has a lot of problems and Cody's screenplay isn't afraid to put them out there. Charlize Theron's performance within that shell is outstanding. With her overpowering beauty, she's perfect for the part, but is a good enough actress to blend in the necessary acid it takes to play such a despicable character. She deserves the awards attention she's getting. The same goes for Patton Oswalt as a supporting actor. Known to most as the voice of Remy in Ratatouille, Patton has a thanklessly unflattering role that he adds great depth and heart to. Their scenes together are far more interesting than watching Charlize scheme on Patrick Wilson.
Director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air) has put together another quirky movie that balances drama and comedy, but Young Adult falls short of being truly compelling like his previous works. Theron and Oswalt are worth the price of admission, but, in a great many ways, much is left unfulfilled even when the credits roll. Having a non-chipper dark comedy is fine, but we still need some more closure and comeuppance than we are given.
LESSON #1: YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GO HOME-- People will say that "you can always go home" and "home is where the heart is." That's true for some and then complete B.S. for others. For Mavis, it's the latter. For as much as she thinks Buddy would be better off with her, she doesn't fit or belong in Mercury. She doesn't live the way the town does and vice versa. Some people were meant to stick with the wings they spread to leave where they started.
LESSON #2: THE LONELY NEEDING HELP-- For as much as Mavis puts on a glamorous surface of mani-pedis, creative success, and big city style, we learn she is an incredibly troubled individual. Her self-created loner lifestyle has caused acute and admitted depression and alcoholism (and likely more problems). Stealing a husband is not what's going to help. It's going to take more than that and home might not be the best place.
LESSON #3: CLINGING TO THE PAST-- Even after nearly 20 years away from her old high school glory, Mavis will still cling to an old cassette mix-tape and old boyfriend's clothes. Chances are all of us have that old photo album or dusty box of mementos from an ex, even though we've pretended to move on. On one hand, savoring the right sentimental connections is therapeutic, but not here. For all of the wouldas-couldas-shouldas everyone has about the missed opportunities of their youthful past, clinging to them doesn't help. Let go and focus on the present and future.