We See Chick Flicks: “Young Adult”
Starring Charlie Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson & Elizabeth Reaser
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman
I went into a screening of “Young Adult” already anticipating that I would love it. After all, the premise centered around that of a young adult novelist, and as a total YA nerd, I was sure I would relate in some way to Mavis Gary. My vague understanding of the plot reinforced my enthusiasm; a single and successful thirtysomething woman, still trying to find what truly makes her happy — that sounds kind of like me! And written by Diablo Cody? Count me in!
Well, my expectations for “Young Adult” were met, not met, and exceeded, all at once. See, I thought the film was fantastic — but it was not at all what I thought it would be. But it was better for it.
Charlie Theron plays Mavis Gary, a young adult series ghost writer whose success is noteworthy, despite the fact that her name does not appear on the books’ cover. She’s a recent divorcee who lives alone in a nice, but sterile apartment in Minneapolis; her only company is her Pomeranian, Dolce, and the constantly blaring flatscreen television that, sadly and hilariously, is always tuned to some terrible E! reality TV program like “Kendra” or “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” It’s clear from the first few minutes of the film that Mavis is successful on paper, but unsatisfied inside — one hangover streams into the next, nursed via self-punishing hair-pulling sessions and huge gulps of Diet Coke straight from the liter. (As a DC-fiend and recent bald spot-inflictor, this struck me as stolen directly from my own life, basically.) On a date with a perfectly affable guy, Mavis is bored and unimpressed, one of three expressions that rest on her face for almost the entire movie.
The others? Faux enthusiasm and, for lack of a better, term completely cuntitude. See, Mavis, while sad, is also utterly unlikeable; she’s self-absorbed, cruel, incredibly juvenile, and vapid. The film’s primary success is in proving that you can center a movie, especially one targeted towards a female-audience, around a character that the audience will not like or root for. It has rarely been done, but “Young Adult” does it boldly, bravely, and ultimately successfully, due in no small part to Cody’s brilliant script and Charlize Theron’s incredible acting. She has not been this good since “Monster,” which, as a reviewer for The New York Times points out, would be an apt title for this film as well.
Mavis, like the teenage characters she writes, has the emotional maturity of the world’s bitchiest prom queen. After receiving a birth announcement from her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), she determines that he must be “trapped” in his marriage and it is her job to save him. She heads back to her hometown to rekindle their relationship — by breaking up his marriage to kind and cool Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). While she’s in town, Mavis develops a strange friendship with another former classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt), whose high school experience stands in stark contrast to Mavis’ idealization of it being the best time of her life. Beaten to the point of being crippled by a bunch of jocks who thought he was gay, Matt is both intrigued with and disgusted by Mavis’ antics. It is in their interactions that we see the depth of Mavis’ illness (her delusions and alcoholism, for starters), her depravity, and, ultimately, the hint of something more. Patton Oswalt plays the part to perfection — he’s sarcastic and likable, with an emotional depth that just beams from him in every scene. He goes toe to toe with Theron and holds his own. If I had the power to decide such things, he would get an Oscar nomination, as would she.
The Verdict: I don’t want to give too much of the rest of the plot away, but suffice it to say, this is not your typical chick flick or rom-com. In short: It’s dark. You will probably hate Mavis, but hopefully maybe feel a tiny bit sorry for her too. You will cringe. You will laugh your ass off. Charlize Theron gives the best bitch face I have ever seen; it’s just begging for an animated GIF wall. The writing is stellar and luckily lacks the annoying teen speak of “Juno.” You will learn the term “Ken-Taco-Hut” — i.e. a restaurant with a KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut all under one roof, a staple of the rural American setting of the movie — and immediately work it into your vernacular. “Young Adult” has heart, but it is not heartwarming. Is it a redemption story? How far does Mavis’ plan go? You’ll have to see it to find out. I highly recommend you do.