Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Mary Beth Hurt, Richard Bekins, J K Simmons.
Young Adult is a dark, bleak and uncomfortable comedy written by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno, etc), who manages to create believable, flesh and blood but deeply flawed characters. The film re-unites her with Juno director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Up In The Air, etc), who is one of the smartest young filmmakers working in Hollywood today.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, the former psychotic bitchy prom queen who returns to her small-town of Mercury in Minnesota on a delusional mission to seduce her high-school boyfriend Buddy Slade (played by Patrick Wilson). Buddy has recently e-mailed everyone a picture of his new baby. She thinks that she and Buddy are soul mates, and she hopes to seduce him and lure him away from his wife and newborn baby.
Recently divorced, Mavis is narcissistic, unfulfilled, lonely, alcoholic, delusional, and inconsiderate. She is also the ghostwriter of a series of Young Adult books about Sweet Valley High, which is ironic because she doesn’t seem to have grown up much. Mavis is trying to write the final book for the series, which has been cancelled. She’s also been working on the screenplay for the movie adaptation of Sweet Valley High.
When she returns to her old hometown though she learns that things have changed and most of the people from her class have grown up and moved on with their lives. She also reconnects with Matt (comic Patton Oswalt, from The King Of Queens, etc), who was left crippled after a homophobic hate-crime while still at high school. Mavis hangs out with Matt (whom she acerbically calls “hate crime guy”) because he seems to be the only person in town who can empathise with her sense of loneliness and bitterness. There seems to be some connection between this miserable pair who have largely been forgotten or ignored by the townsfolk. Matt offers Mavis some well-meaning advice, but she ignores him.
Cody’s insightful script is full of uncomfortable humour and smart, acerbic dialogue. Reitman directs in unsentimental fashion, and he finds the perfect tone for the material. Its caustic humour, downbeat nature and lack of a neat resolution mean that the film is not as readily accessible as her Oscar-winning Juno.
Mavis is probably Cody’s most fascinating character to date – she is an unpleasant and amoral character and it is hard to feel sympathy or compassion for her. Theron has fun playing this flawed and unlikeable character, which gives her one of her best roles of recent years. Oswalt is largely cast against type in a more serious role, and he brings plenty of pathos and compassion to his performance as the wounded Matt. There is some terrific chemistry between Theron and Oswalt, which adds to the dynamics of their relationship, and both deliver brilliant performances that explore hidden depths of their characters.
While Young Adult has been produced under the auspices of a major Hollywood studio, it has the look and feel of a quirky independent film.