Monday, December 19, 2011
Young Adult (Limited Release Date: 12-9-2011)
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.