Thursday, December 22, 2011

Young Adult: Movie Review


An almost brilliant look at the world of a darkly troubled young adult.

“Young Adult” takes place in that thirty-something world where young college student ready to take over the world meets experienced cynic (see my review of “The Ides of March”). Both halves exist in troubled Mavis (Charlize Theron) and not sure what to do about it she sets her sights on her high school flame (Patrick Wilson) who is now married with a newborn.2011

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Screenplay by: Diablo Cody

Starring: Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt

It has all the makings of a brilliant dark comedy. As comedic as it’s supposed to be, it’s not particularly funny, often settling for realism instead of exaggerated laughs. And as anti-heroic as our protagonist is, it’s not very dark, often settling for traces of optimism. The first problem I will chalk up to the distributors not knowing how to market the film, which does seem to be a trend these days. The second point I will give to the credit of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman.

Even with all my reservations stemming from the overrated “Juno”, I saw glimmers of brilliance in “Young Adult”. Although perhaps I could take credit for that myself. My main issues with their earlier film (see my review of “Juno”) are that having a character listening to indie music does not automatically make them a complete character, and that the dialogue was not smart, nor realistic. Here, those two points have been corrected and even polished a bit. Mavis is a ghost writer for a once-popular young adult “Gossip Girl”-like series, and yet even with that set-up, Cody managed to remain staid and kept the dialogue level, never once venturing into unrealistic or annoying territory. Mavis does of course listen to indie music, but here it was done as a rather ingenious character point. On the road to winning back her ex, she pops in a mixed tape that he had once made for her and she chooses to listen to one song over and over again. When that same song is heard later on, just the look on Mavis’s face tells us everything we need to know as she ponders turning over a new leaf in her life.

Perhaps the best part of the film is the strong, quiet, dramatic performance by Patton Oswalt. He thinks breaking up a marriage is a bad idea, and although he knows that he has problems in his life that he isn’t quite ready to face himself, he’s still trying to get Mavis to face hers. A point which so few people make, but was made here with his character was another glimmer of brilliance. Back in high school, he was not popular and a bunch of jocks beat him up and left the lower half of his body in shambles. But he’s gay, so this was a hate crime and he had the support and sympathy of the entire nation. That is until they discovered that he wasn’t gay, so this wasn’t actually a hate crime, and he was just some fat loser who got what he deserved.

“Young Adult” is kind of like a coming-of-story for young adults, except it’s told from the point of view an ill-prepared, immature adult who only knows selfishness and knows no bounds to her inappropriateness. She may not be wholly relatable or empathetic but she has enough of both qualities to keep you watching. It can leave you feeling a little empty, but I do think that is the point.
Best of 2011


Rid of Me (2011) - A bleak character study encompassing the best and discomfort of a dark comedy.

Dirty Girl (2010) - Embracing the dirty girl attitude.