Today: April 12, 2024

Young Adult DVD

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody re-team for something grittier than Juno but nonetheless warming.

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody re-team for something
grittier than Juno but nonetheless warming.

You know the
pretty popular girl you went to school with? The one everyone had a crush on, the one who seemed to have
the world wrapped around her little finger? Yeah the one you were probably bitching about on some level
and horribly jealous of on another.
Well, what if after school it didn’t all go right for her? What if she didn’t live happily ever
after and actually ended up leading a bit of a sad and unfulfilling
existence? That is essentially the
premise behind Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s second film
together. A film which moves away
from the quick-smart dialogue of Juno
and matures into something more prophetic, more honest and certainly more
bitter than you’d expect of the pairing.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a ghostwriter for a
series of once popular teenage fiction about the highs of high school. But with the series waning and Mavis
recently divorced things aren’t quite going to plan. So she concocts a new plan; to return to her hometown in
Minnesota with the aim of winning back her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). The problem is Buddy is happily married
and has just had a child. But
that’s not going to stop Mavis and while she steam rolls into town she manages
to alienate all around, except for former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who she soon develops a
bit of a soft spot for.

A glance at Jason
Reitman’s previous films sees characters go through change, become better
people as a result of their trials and tribulations. Juno (Ellen Page) became a more sympathetic
person, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)
in Up In The Air learned that no man
is an island and even Nick Naylor (Aaron
Eckhart
) from Thank You For Smoking
began to appreciate that sometimes you have to do the right thing, no matter
the cost. Young Adult is therefore
a departure for Reitman. Mavis rarely changes, she’s firmly stuck in her ways,
used to getting what she wants and trampling on anyone who gets in her
way.

To put it
bluntly, Mavis is a bitch. A
boozing, ice cream junkie with about as much personal appeal as a kick in the
crotch, which she’d likely give you if you so much as looked at her funny. Reitman shoots the film with a stilted
camera, a pallet at once dour but constantly peppered with vibrant colours that
have almost lost life in the wash somehow.

“Love conquers
all, haven’t you seen The Graduate” and that’s the tone, a Graduate style
deconstruction of an isolated person desperate for some kind, any kind, of
identity in the world. Something
she hasn’t had since she was the ‘It’ girl at high school. The problem is she still acts like she’s
in high school, all disdainful looks and cutting backhanded compliments. She’s stuck in a time warp and Matt,
thanks to being crippled for a hate crime committed on him in school, is stuck
there too. Neither can put their
past behind them and it’s only in their moments together of self-loathing and
anger for the world where you feel the most affection for the film.

It’s darkly funny
with more than a hint of bitter reality in it. Mavis doesn’t really express any emotion other than
‘neutral’ which becomes all the more ironic when Buddy’s wife explains to her
that she teaches special needs kids how to learn emotions cognitively. Upon hearing this Mavis is less than
convinced, after all, why would anyone waste their time on such a trivial
exercise?!

Young Adult, like
it’s protagonist, is mean. A
vindictive rage of almost mid-life crisis when all her peers are taking the
next step. But the performances
lend you a hook to hang your heart on.
Patton Oswalt is the most honest character on display, his rubber face
always a priceless picture of shock and awe when Mavis utters any number of her
outlandish opinions. He is angry
at the world but in Oswalt’s hands there is a sense of resigned comedy about
his life. So what if his penis is
at an angle meaning he pees sideways, he’s just going to get on with life as
best he can and quietly stew in his own man-cave. Charlize Theron reminds us here why she is a worthy Oscar
winner. Young Adult is a
tour-de-force. Mavis is so
brilliantly sharp every syllable out of Theron’s mouth cuts deeper than any
blade. But for all the venom she
spits you pity her, hell she pities herself she just doesn’t know how to
address it. Theron gives Mavis a
dead behind the eye glare but, despite her ill kept look, can still look
utterly radiant, a kind of lamb in mutton’s clothes. Perhaps the performance is too mean for some, but it is
surprising that no awards came Theron’s way for her portrayal of Mavis.

Young Adult is
not going to give you that warm feeling of Reitman’s last two efforts. Instead it will open your eyes to the
worthless nature of self-indulgence.
At first you’ll dislike Mavis, but like her car she’s just a little
damaged and who knows, with a bit of fine-tuning you may just grow to love
her.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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