Young Adult (2011)
Directed by Jason Reitman
“What if they don’t feel anything?” The train screeches off the rails when the words are spoken by Mavis Gary, played with chaotic grace by Charlize Theron, in Young Adult. It’s not Monster, but it’s close. Booze and heartbreak have numbed the life of the struggling fiction writer, and it takes a trip back to her quaint Minnesota hometown for her to realize it. When Mavis sees an old classmate, Matt Freehauf (a passionately funny Patton Oswald), screenwriter Diablo Cody’s tender script shows its true force. Cody doesn’t wimp out on the gritty details of life, and her script’s ugly patches are purely intentional. Mavis, in her pathetic week-long drunken stupor, strives to rekindle an old flame in Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson)…except he’s a husband…and a recent father. Her game of hard-to-get leads to a full-scale intervention where Mavis is finally confronted with the reality of her messed-up life. It’s a dark comedy, to be sure, but for that it’s better off.
Does Young Adult echo the perfection of Cody and Reitman’s first film in 2007? In short, Ju-NO (I apologize, it sounded funnier in my head). But the script is more genuine and the laughs come with a bite. It takes an alcoholic home-wrecker to show us that life is worthless unless you’re surrounded by the people who matter most. But more than that, it takes Diablo Cody (who, in part, based Mavis on herself, as native Minnesotan writers). Cody was nominated by the Writer’s Guild of America for 2011’s Best Original Screenplay, though Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris rightfully took home the prize. But there should be no surprise when I tell you Diablo Cody truly understands, captures, and embodies the cultural milieu of America’s “young adults” better than any screenwriter I’ve seen. It’s your daily dose of pop culture crammed into 94 minutes – it’s Juno and Jennifer’s Body all over again. And it’s precisely why I’m driving Cody’s bandwagon.
Is there anything Charlize Theron can’t do on the big screen? Mavis’s sly humor, careless charm, and deeply rooted self-loathing could only be played by such a versatile actress. She lives up to the splendor of the film’s tagline: “Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.” She received the film’s only Golden Globe nomination, but the film (wrongfully) received little Oscar buzz. Any talk came for Patton Oswald, who wowed audiences with a tragically comic performance as the handicapped victim of a past hate crime. He’s the poor man’s Zach Galifianakis, but his humor hurts. Young Adult is a classic dramedy that thrives with superb performances.
Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman are back, and, while it’s no Juno, Young Adult is a valiant second effort. How did you like Young Adult? How does it stack up to Juno and others?