Film Review: Young Adult

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson & Patton Oswalt

Increasingly so, Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) is proving she’s the most important name on a film’s poster and with Young Adult, her most mature work to date, she’s undoubtedly shaken off the one-trick-pony shackles. Cody is a writer with a natural talent for fleshing out interesting, multi-dimensional characters and her latest is by no means an exception, telling the intriguing, albeit occasionally plodding, story of a woman who’s all too difficult to love. Mavis Gary (Theron), a writer of a series of ‘young adult fiction’ books, is in her late thirties and has nothing but her pomeranian for company. When she receives an email revealing her ex-boyfriend Buddy (Wilson) has had a baby she decides to show her face in the town she grew up in and maybe, just maybe, win back the love and affection of her old flame.

On paper this looks like the type of disposable tween-trash Lindsay Lohan would agree to do, but in the hands of Cody and Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) it’s a surprisingly deep character study shot through with macabre humour and emotional gravitas. Reitman is a quietly consistent director and he always manages to deliver concise, absorbing stories in a style that never seems to smother the original material. In a way he’s the Michel Gondry to Cody’s Charlie Kaufman: he gives the creator space to experiment but grounds it in a way that never lets it wander off into a sea of self-indulgent waffle. Throughout the film we see the world through the desperate eyes ofMavis and the novel she’s working on is used as a form of internal monologue to present her thought pattern to us. It’s quite a blatant device but Cody writes with enough wit and flare to keep it fresh.

Mavis is such a flawed person that in a way she is in fact the film’s biggest flaw. She’s just such a destructive, self-obsessed individual  that time spent in her company verges on unbearable at times. But for this Cody deserves credit for having the sheer audacity to tell a story from the point-of-view of a character who possesses very few redeeming characteristics. On the other end of the spectrum is Mavis‘ ex-highschool acquaintanceMatt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who brings enough warmth and humanity into the mix to balance things out. A beautiful fusing of Cody’s sensibilities and an award-worthy performance from Oswalt makes for a character that absolutely transcends the conventions of the ‘highschool loser’. The bond that Mavis and Matt have initially feels contrived but the more we watch them develop the more we see a believable and unpredictable connection form.

But not all the characters are quite as fascinating, particularly Buddy who feels like an empty shell at times. Having said that, this works with the narrative and feels like a conscious decision made by Cody. He’s presented to us as a regular guy who’s put his youth in his rear-view and it’s hard for us to see the desperate, confused adolescent thatMavis sees in him. But as we witness his character develop we begin to view things fromMavis‘ perspective and his hypocritical, non-committal side begins to rear it’s cowardly head. But he’s far from being a completely unsympathetic character and showing things from numerous perspectives is something the film skilfully accomplishes.  We even occasionally see glimpses of ourselves in Mavis such as the scene where, while waiting alone in a restaurant, she bashes in random keys on her Blackberry at random in order to appear busy. It may not be something we all do but I guarantee a large proportion of audiences will be able to relate to that moment.

Without giving too much away, suffice to say Young Adult leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth and, like its central character; it starts to outstay its welcome as it draws to a close. In a way it’s a frustrating experience spending 90 minutes with a character who uses others for her own personal gain in such a despicable fashion. But this is a sign of brave storytelling and marks a step in the right direction from the admittedly tweeJuno. It’s a film that’s definitely worth seeing, if not for the universal themes then for the magnificent nuanced performances from Theron and Oswalt and, of course, the terrific screenplay. Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman truly are shaping up to be a cinematic duo we can count on.


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