Monday, December 26, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Charlize Theron,  Patton Oswalt,  Patrick Wilson,  Elizabeth Reasor, Jill Eikenberry 

Director: Jason Reitman

Genre: Drama/ Dark Comedy

What we often fail to consider about people is there's a reason why they are the way they are. They don't just wake up one day and become suddenly dysfunctional. The reasons for why the gears are slipping in Mavis Gary's brain are not immediately revealed. So she's not exactly a sympathetic character, until we gain some insight into her pain farther down the line. All we know is there's a train wreck coming --we can see it building from miles away. And just how it's going to play out becomes the rubbernecking fascination of Young Adult--the low-key, darkly comedic effort from the director of Up In The Air, and the writer of Juno (Diablo Cody).

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a hard drinking writer of teen fiction in her late thirties. Her publisher is expecting some words from her, but she sits uninspired in front of the computer. Her Minneapolis apartment is a disaster area. ( I felt an immediate kinship, as all slobs do.) Her sexual encounters are of the superficial variety. Something is missing in her life. 

 She receives a mass emailed announcement of the birth of her happily married high school sweetheart's first child. Star athlete Buddy Slade. At first Mavis is incensed, but it gets her to ruminating on  her "homecoming queen bitch" (as a snarky former classmate will label her) glory days. She becomes fixated on the idea of going back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota and reclaiming Buddy for her own. 

Yes, despite the "extenuating" circumstances.
Explaining her arrival back in town with a cover story about some real estate deal, Mavis hits the bar and runs into geek Matt Freehauf, (Patton Oswalt) who occupied the locker right next to hers in high school. But she existed in such a self-absorbed bubble that she doesn't have the slightest recollection of him, until her memory is jogged by a disturbing incident from those days. Matt's youth was marred by a severe beating at the hands of bullies, and now his legs don't work. His member sort of does, but it's crooked (like much of the twisted humor in this movie!)

So Mavis will rendezvous with the clueless Buddy, (Patrick Wilson) who thinks it's all for old time's sake--his marriage to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, of the girl-next-door looks) on such solid ground that it's no biggie to either of them. Little do they suspect that she intends to ingratiate herself into their happy set-up like an army of termites poised to eat away at the foundation of their relationship. 
On the side, Mavis develops a sort of symbiotic relationship with Matt. He manufactures moonshine and she drinks it. Fully aware of what she's up to,   he functions as her dormant conscience--a sort of angel on her shoulder--trying to impress upon her how misguidedly deranged she's become. And just like Clarence, Matt WILL get his wings (and all of geekdom watching will rejoice!)

Though it's lost on Mavis, theirs is the more meaningful of the two relationships. They are kindred spirits, each crippled by the past, as yet unable to move beyond it.   

The climactic scene brings the sudden realization that in Young Adult, what we've been watching all along is a character study of an individual in need of help--it's smirking humor derived from the irony of life itself.

I was never particularly a fan of Theron, but after Young Adult, I am. As Mavis Gary, she taps into our go-for-the-gusto, never to be denied, can do spirit--albeit in a selfish, obnoxious, and devil-may-care manner. But hey, as Mellencamp sang: Those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went...ah, but ain't that America...

One of the year's best films! 

Grade :  A