Posted October 10, 2011 by Ryan Goodwin Smith in Films
 
 

Young Adult


The well of creative output devoted to the high school experience (its social constructs, labour-camp rigidity, tribalism) seems bottomless. It remains the most accessible common denominator for all Americans: either the Hero’s Journey or one’s undoing – depending on the experience.

The well of creative output devoted to the high school experience (its social constructs, labour-camp rigidity, tribalism) seems bottomless. It remains the most accessible common denominator for all Americans: either the Hero’s Journey or one’s undoing – depending on the experience.

Diablo Cody’s sophomore outing with director Jason Reitman, Young Adult, is a punchy, sarcastic film that gives two fingers to the notion that a main character – let alone a pretty one – must be likeable.

Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, the Minneapolis-living ghostwriter of a young adult book series now waning in popularity. As an allegory to Mavis’s life, she’s managing the “Gossip Girl” series’ decline in social standing and influence.

Things have been better for Mavis. A deadline is nearly upon her and she’s avoiding her editor’s calls. An ex-husband is hinted at and heavy drinking is alluded to by a few rough mornings. In one scene she quietly pulls out her blonde hair then sleeps through daytime telly in her high-rise city condo.

After a montage revealing her intense procrastination, a baby picture arrives via email, and we learn it’s her high school beau’s new daughter. It’s the proper distraction Mavis needs to bail on the big city and big responsibilities. To shake her writer’s block and get out of her rut Mavis packs her bags and drives home to small-town Mercury, Minnesota.

Mavis’s juvenile plan is simple: by turning up and looking pretty she’ll rescue Buddy, now married and with a newborn, from the rut he must obviously be in too. Her short-sightedness and inability to let go of the past sees Mavis embark on a very sad, and often hilarious, escapade. Her reckless, impulsive trip home betrays the depth of her depression and delusion.

On her first night back in Mercury, she gets talking to Matt (Patton Oswalt) a disabled loafer who had a locker next to Mavis in high school. He’s the first of many townies who remember Mavis Gary, and they become unlikely drinking buddies. Mavis suddenly remembers Matt for being the victim of a gay bashing by a bunch of jocks back at school. They broke his leg and smashed his penis – the salt in the wound being everyone from then on assumed Matt was gay: he’s not. This opens the door for Matt’s and Mavis’s obvious and unavoidable sexual encounter, which ends up far more heartwarming and touching than one anticipates.

As a film about writers who have to ‘live’ their subject matter, it’s a great example. It’s only on this trip home that Mavis is able to pen her final installment of “Gossip Girl”. She often overhears banal girl-talk at fast food joints and becomes immediately inspired by them.

The ultimate joy of this film is being lulled into thinking you’ve seen all this before, and being proved wrong. Mavis remains, in the end, a deeply shallow person. This isn’t a journey where she grows as an individual – learning from her mistakes and empowering those around her. No. It’s about letting go of old bullsh@t for new bullsh@t.

The only real problem with Charlize Theron (who is funny, charming and gives a great performance) is she’s unimaginably demure. The allure of a beautiful train wreck was obviously no hindrance to Theron’s Oscar win for Monster. But an international face of Dior playing a once upon a time small-town beauty who’s stuck obsessing about high school for the past 20 years? Well, that’s Hollywood for you.

It doesn’t stop the Cody/Reitman team from attempting, and succeeding in, varsity-level awkwardness a la The Office. The very public confrontation between Mavis and Buddy’s wife at a christening is face-behind-the-hands cringe-worthy.

Patton Oswalt also gives a wonderful performance playing the straight man (no pun intended) against Theron’s fading prom queen.

Young Adult is a solid piece of moviemaking, with some great one-liners and an attitude problem. It’s, like, so totally worth seeing.


Ryan Goodwin Smith