Sometimes you need time to marinate on a film before you completely make up your mind about it. Such is the case with Young Adult, the new flick from writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (their first film together since the celebrated Juno – which I always felt was over-rated, but whatevs). I saw this about 3 weeks ago, and I’m glad I let it stew before I talked about it here. It’s a very different film with really interesting performances, not to be over-looked or easily forgotten.
Cody really likes to write about high school: Juno focused on a high school student who was pregnant, the under-appreciated (but which I really dug) Jennifer’s Body focused on two high-school gals, and she (sort of) continues the tradition here. Young Adult follows Mavis Gary, who is no longer in high school, at least physically, as she goes back to her hometown to try to woo her now-married teenage flame. If that sounds immature and despicable, it is. Mavis is one of the most unappealing, shittiest characters I’ve encountered in a film. And that’s fine with me.
When I first walked out of the theater, I felt gross. Mavis, and all her scheming, and general VILENESS, made me feel seriously yucky. There’s no other word to describe it. And I’ve seen other reviews that vilify Cody for creating such a crappy character. As the weeks have gone by though, I realized, there’s nothing wrong with that. So what, Mavis is a psycho bitch? You’re supposed to hate her. No one will like Mavis. But guess what? In real life, there are shitty people. Complete assholes, who aren’t murderers or thieves, but just pricks, who will be mean to you or use you and they’re not going to change. They are who they are. Have you never encountered one? Lucky you. But sadly, they’re out there.
Casting Mavis had to be tricky, since essentially, she sucks. She’s the young adult ghost writer of a moderately successful book series, who literally does nothing except occasionally write, chug Diet Coke, and make snide remarks to any human being within earshot. She gets a random email birth announcement from her high school boyfriend, Buddy (played with a perfect mid-western blank stare of “my life is completely boring and regular, but I am somehow 100% okay with it”). For some unknown reason, this prompts Mavis to want him back, to feel like she needs to save him from his life. The problem is though, Mavis’s life, while QUITE different from Buddy’s, is also nothing special. She wastes her days away. I think Charlize Theron was a brilliant choice, because since you’re supposed to hate Mavis, she has to be easy on the eyes, yet capable of conveying the selfishness – and Theron does all of this. She’s wonderfully wicked, droll, and thoughtless beyond all comprehension. She’s abhorrent. You will easily despise this woman, however, Theron clearly jumped into this role 100%, so I find it hard to write off the character.
Once she arrives in her suburban-y, shopping plaza-filled home-town, she heads to a local dive bar for a drink, and runs into another old high school acquaintance, played by Patton Oswalt – who continues to prove that he’s an excellent actor. As he did in the darkly good Big Fan, he is able to convey depth and pain and regret. His Matt is a high school loser who got beat up by a bunch of jocks because they thought he was gay (he’s straight), costing him the use of some of his leg (and male member), now relying on a forearm crutch to get around. He lives with his sister, and they’re a likeable, yet sad pair. Mavis doesn’t really remember Matt, but she does remember his scandal. The two end up spending some time together while she’s in town, and while they are a far-fetched duo, I bought it, because they each had basically no one else.
As Mavis hunts Buddy down, and her pursuing becomes more and more aggressive, the audience feels worse and worse. Buddy is a happy guy, and seems oblivious to her schemings. You want to ring Mavis’s neck. Until she is dead. Yet, the movie has a quiet, calm feel – you spend every moment following her. This includes all of her random activities, waking up, chugging the Coke, just all those little moments that make up your day. To call this a comedy is a stretch. It’s a dark drama, with some absurd moments and characters, but there were really no laugh out loud bits.
The ending is polarizing. I’ve read a good handful of reviews that hate the ending and claim that it kind of makes the movie pointless. I completely disagree. It was just truthful – it’s what would have happened in real life. Sometimes, it’s nice to be treated to a dose of honesty from a filmmaker. I think Cody wove an interesting tale, looking at the life of a sociopath/misanthrope/bitch, and the devastation she wreaks. Her films could be considered a trilogy of sorts, and Young Adult is surely the most grown-up of the lot.