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Monday, December 19, 2011

Young Adult (Limited Release Date: 12-9-2011)

        At the ripe-old age of 34, Director Jason Reitman already has a good deal to brag about. With only three films to his credit, the auteur has not only established himself as a fine film-maker, but he's also become something of a chief chronicler of the modern American experience (David Fincher also comes to mind). His debut, Thank You For Smoking, made zippy fun out of diving into the mire that is corporate America. His second flick, and first real Oscar player, was Juno, a film with its finger firmly on the pulse of the arrogance, confusion, and hyper-speed of present-day youth culture. His last big-screen outing, 2009's Up In the Air, observed modern notions of class and identity as they relate to occupation, not to mention keeping an eye on the effects of a crumbling national economy. He's back for more of the same with Young Adult, his newest comedy about the addiction, self-image and prolonged adolescence issues presently being worked over by our country's 20-40 set.

        Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) might have been the coolest girl in the room back in high school, but times have most certainly changed. Now 37, the ghost-writer of Young Adult chick-lit is a mess of too much make-up, too many hair extensions, and far, far too much booze. Seemingly on a whim, Gary decides to return from Minneapolis to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to rekindle her romance with High School sweetheart Buddy Slate (Patrick Wilson). The fact that he is now married with an infant daughter doesn't seem to matter much to her, as she confides her plans and devices to Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a battered, depressed former classmate who is willing to accept all of Mavis' put-downs just to momentarily bask in her fading, dying glow.

        Diablo Cody, the screenwriter behind Reitman's own oft-quoted Juno, returns again here, but you'd be wise not to expect hamburger-phones or characters who are, 'Honest to Blog.' Where the High School Pregnancy comedy lightly poked fun at its too-clever, clearly-compensating protagonist, Young Adult absolutely skewers her alive, showing you layers upon layers of awfulness that this woman has managed to cake on after years of being treated as a goddess. She's an absolute, undeniable train-wreck, belittling and self-agrandizing to no end, the movie even examining her severe problems with alcoholism with an unforgiving, unwavering eye. She essentially operates as the monster in a monster movie, and just like the creatures of those films, her grotesque nature renders her both revolting, and captivating. You know you shouldn't be going for her, but in some twisted way, you also want to keep seeing her rack up one victim after another.

        Young Adult is an intense, in-depth character study of a throughly-unlikable person going through a sizable personal crisis, the kind of movie that flies-or-dies on the power of its central performance, and my god, does Theron have the goods. She commits completely to the vapid, deranged disposition of her character, evaporating into the marrow-deep egomania from which Mavis suffers. The cast that surrounds her is similarly top-notch, but none more so than Oswalt. Following his criminally over-looked lead turn in the criminally under-seen sports drama/black comedy Big Fan, Oswalt again shows that he's just as strong an actor as a comedian, his hurt and wounded admiration lofting off of the screen.

        Jason Reitman seems to become a little more special with each film that he creates. His visual stylings, while far more subtle than many of his peers, deftly convey ideas and feelings where words would have likely proved too clumsy, and his rapport with actors is as good as anyone working today. What's more, he made Young Adult at a time when he could have really made anything he wanted, focusing instead on a dark, cruel comedy and think-piece that will undoubtably prove divisive among audiences, and will likely be a no-show on Oscar nomination morning. Who needs a golden man, anyway? Reitman has again tapped into the American Zeitgeist, returning to his favorite theme, the willful distortion of one's self-image, and using it to put up a fun-house mirror to the self-entitled way in which most of us live our lives. Sure, we're not all as bad as Mavis Gary (hopefully none of us are), but I cannot deny that I saw shades of my bad-days self in her that caused me to shutter, and I've got a feeling that it might do the same for many of my similarly privileged peers. Young Adult can be a difficult movie to watch, but its craft is true, its performances are undeniable, and it is one of the most bravest, sharpest, and most cutting American social critics to make its way across the big screen in many a moon.

Grade: A


  1. Tell me why Young Adult has a better grade than Hugo.

  2. Because I thought Hugo was a tad too long, and, as much as I like film preservation, the lessons about it seem kind of wedged into the plot, and play not unlike PSAs. Obviously I loved Hugo as well, those are just my bug-a-boos.

  3. I saw Young Adult a couple days ago, and was pretty disappointed. Glad you liked it though. Theron's character was too cliche. Keep writing, cuz you're good at it.

  4. Theron´s character was too real to be cliché IMO. The movie was brave as hell for bringing alive Mavis character and allowing that ending that was too cynycal and honest and flawless and all the good things you can say about a perfect ending dialogue. I would say Hugo was "technically better" but the second time i watched it in teathers i fell asleep for the first 30 mins Martin Scorsese NEEDS a better editotr. Also i think Hugo was a excuse to talk about George Melliers i cared more about him than the kid, i loved all the old films part and Hugo ended of being almost a support character to my eyes.

    About the movie did you find the sex scene was necessary i think if they would of just hugged and slept that nigh it migh have been the same but at the same time it was realistic.

  5. Ironically, I actually like the, 'kids on an adventure,' first half of Hugo more than the second, but I really like the whole movie. I just think there's something of a disconnect between its two parts.

    I like the sex scene. I think that after Mavis leaves the party after having been ashamed by everyone, what she needs more than anything is to be worshipped by someone. Showing her body to someone like Matt, who would never otherwise even be in the same room as a naked woman like that, makes her feel big again, and then his sister puts her over the top, and back on her wretched track.

  6. I saw the film with my boyfriend who, along with the sparsely populated theater crowd, abhorred the movie. I found the character of Mavis very relatable especially being a mid-twenties former most popular high school girl. Currently unemployed and my life adrift, plus diagnosed with chronic depression showed a part of me in Mavis. I found the ending inspiring as Mavis realizes why she left Mercury in the first place and decides to return home; where big city survival appeals to special people only and is detrimental to the ordinary, like Sandra. Mavis's crazy state mind out of touch with reality was uncannily relatable as was her Diet Coke addiction and negligent care for her dog. Overall, whether you feel like Mavis is portraying your life on screen or find the struggle of human nature of interest see this film.

  7. Reitman got this right. The pessimistic, honest ending of this movie was fitting for the character unlike his previous misstep with the ending of up in the air (which was a great movie until then). It felt so false when Clooney couldn't tell Vera Farmiga what he wanted on the phone (he did know what he wanted). Clooney's character was older and at a more thoughtful and reflective time in his life. Theron's character's similar ending works because it fits her mental state so well. he was never looking for anything real in coming home in the first place, and all she needed was a little push, some reinforcement about how great her (terrible) city life is. She did not go through any process of discovery, so the ending is realistic and poingent. Clooney did, and I don't buy that he would just not express his anger at Vera for not mentioning she's married with kids and then just return to life in the sky after being so close to something he really wanted.