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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Young Adult

MOVIE REVIEWS

YOUNG ADULT (2011)

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, Brian McElhaney, Hettienne Park, John Forest, Brady Smith, Emily Meade, Rightor Doyle and the voice of J.K. Simmons.

Screenplay by Diablo Cody.

Directed by Jason Reitman.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  94 minutes.  Rated R.

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Young Adult

Despite her great beauty (or perhaps because of it), Charlize Theron has never been shy about playing some very ugly characters.  In a career full of adventurous and dangerous roles, Theron has found her apex with this perceptive and biting social comedy/drama.  Even more than her Oscar-winning performance in 2003’s Monster, her performance as aging high school beauty queen Mavis Gary is shocking in its clear-eyed and committed gaze at an often contemptuous character.  After all, in Monster, no matter how good she was, she was hiding behind a fat suit and makeup.  She’s completely exposed here – literally, she has to do one scene wearing only hose, panties and silicone breast enhancers – showing the unsightly soul underneath the beautiful exterior.

Mavis is a 37-year-old former small-town cheerleader who moved to the big city (Minneapolis) when she graduated.  She got married and became a writer in a popular series of young adult romance novels. However, nearly 20 years after her high school glory days, her life is no longer a cause for jealousy.  She is divorced, living in a messy little high-rise apartment, has a huge drinking problem and a tendency to bring home strangers. Her book series has lost popularity and is being cancelled – and she is too shell-shocked and blocked to get her final manuscript into any kind of order.  And out of the blue, she receives an email announcing that her high school boyfriend and his wife have just had their first baby.

Mavis is in melt-down mode.  Anyone else would take the announcement as yet another closing door in their life.  Mavis, on the other hand, takes it as a cry for help and an opportunity.  If she returns to her tiny home town and wins her former beau away from his family, perhaps they can both return to the high school stardom that had slipped away. 

It’s a tricky concept for a movie, with a deluded (and just slightly morally bankrupt) heroine.  It’s the type of thing which could easily go spectacularly wrong and totally alienate an audience.

It didn’t.  Young Adult is one of the smartest, edgiest, darkest comedies of the year.  Really, it’s nearly stunning how well this has been pulled off.

The team behind Juno – screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman – have done the impressive job of one-upping that already terrific film.

The writing is even more pointed and sharp than that film – periodically they felt the need to soften the lead character of Juno to make her more human and likable.  (Reitman also did that periodically in his last film, the hit George Clooney dramedy Up In the Air.  

Cody and Reitman have no such compulsion here.  They are more than happy to allow Mavis’ unhappiness and ugliness shine through.  (Just in the most basic sense, more than once she wakes up, passed out in her clothes and chugs direct from a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke.) 

The humanity in the film mostly comes in the form of Matt (stunningly well-played by comedian Patton Oswalt.)  Matt was a high-school classmate with a crush on Mavis who was savagely beaten in high school because he was gay.  (“You’re the hate crime guy!” she gleefully yells when she finally realizes who he is.)  Unfortunately, he wasn’t actually gay, so it was eventually written off as just as a fat kid getting the crap beaten out of him.  Years later, he is still crippled and caustically cynical about life, and yet he recognizes the pain and loneliness and delusion of Mavis and they become odd friends.

Then the movie makes the very risky narrative choice of when the main character finally has her eyes open and gets her life epiphany, she is talked out of it by another character.

There is no law that a movie character has to learn from their mistakes.  By allowing their character to be blindly true to her inner nature, Young Adult becomes one of the most occasionally uncomfortable and yet truthful movies in recent years.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s also as funny as anything.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 9, 2012.

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Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 9, 2012.

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