Review: Young Adult

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Director: Jason Reitman
Certificate: 15

I am a narcissistic wreck who aspires to write young adult novels. This film was like gazing into my future. AND I LIKED WHAT I SAW.

I have my issues with Diablo Cody as a writer, largely because the first 20 minutes or so of Juno are enough to drive even the most devoted of pacifists to want to travel straight to Hollywood and attack Cody’s laptop with an iron (home)skillet. If I hadn’t been watching the film with my boyfriend, who assured me that this was as bad as it gets and that the rest of the film is actually very enjoyable, I’m not sure I would have made it past those scenes. And the less said about Jennifer’s Body the better. But, ironically enough, I think Young Adult really sees Cody maturing as a writer – her script is still peppered with neologisms and pop culture references, but they’re used far more sparingly, and the rest of the dialogue sounds a lot more like the way people actually talk. Movie people, admittedly, but people nonetheless.

A movie like this stands or falls on the strength of its central performance, and above and beyond Cody’s script, that’s this film’s main asset – a genuinely spellbinding turn from Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a writer of young adult fiction (technically, the ghostwriter of a particularly trashy franchise that’s on its last legs). Displaying all the maturity of one of her characters, Mavis heads back to her hometown of Mercury after she discovers that her high-school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson, getting slightly more to do here than he had in Morning Glory, although that’s not exactly difficult) has recently had a baby with his wife, and sets her sights on winning him back.

Make no mistake about it, Mavis is a person with a lot of issues: she drinks heavily, she cares only about herself, she has no filter in social situations – in the wrong hands, she could be a very difficult person to spend two hours with. But Theron makes brilliant sense of her, gently suggesting the loneliness and desperation of the character at every turn – never excusing her behaviour, but at least explaining it. As a result, I found myself rooting for Mavis to win in the end, even though I knew it was wrong, because Theron gave the character a vulnerability that lesser actors wouldn’t have managed. I hate to single people out, but having seen a trailer for One For The Money (see below) before the film started, I occasionally found myself wondering how the film might have turned out if Mavis had been played by someone like Katherine Heigl (which doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility), who generally has about as much warmth as the Outer Hebrides in December in her movie roles, and it was all too easy to picture everything that’s joyous about this film swirling down the plughole.

While we’re celebrating the acting, Patton Oswalt deserves a mention too – his role as Matt, a fellow alumnus of Mavis’s high school who was left crippled after being gay-bashed by a group of jocks (despite not actually being gay), is another that requires careful handling, but Oswalt plays the character as someone with clarity of vision where Mavis’s madness is concerned, but obvious myopia in terms of his own life. His brief rivalry with the the town’s “happy cripple” is hilarious, and Oswalt and Theron have a brilliant, strange chemistry together as two outsiders brought together by the most unlikely of circumstances – while the eventual consummation of their relationship with a sexual encounter is not entirely unexpected, it’s also refreshing that it doesn’t really register as an epiphany for Mavis – it just sends her back to a similar place to where she was at the beginning of the film.

Actually, the lack of hugging and learning is part of what really works about this film. Towards the end, Mavis almost comes to a decision about the direction her life is taking, but a chance encounter reminds her of how comparatively lucky she is in relation to the other residents of Mercury, and she’s left in a strange limbo – clearly realising that something needs to change in her life, but also not about to make the sort of grand transformation that will make her a better person. At best, she’s going to be a slightly less worse person. But that’s still progress, right?

Naturally, I do still have a few quibbles – the reveal of why Buddy is spending so much time with Mavis was something I found a little contrived, and while the books that Mavis writes are clearly meant to be tacky and old-hat, I refuse to believe that the books with covers as they’re shown in the film would ever have been purchased by anyone this side of 1973 unless they were selling for 5p in a car boot sale. But apart from that, I recommend this film heartily, and I’m adding Charlize Theron to my list of people who were seriously robbed by the 2012 Oscars shortlist, right next to Tilda Swinton.

Coming Attractions:
Snow White And The Huntsman: Odd that a trailer should feature the two title characters so scarcely. Clearly, given what film we were all there to watch, it knew we were all there for Charlize Theron. Fair enough.
The Hunger Games: I have nothing sarcastic to say about this, because I’m genuinely quite excited about it. I do feel like I ought to read the book first though.
One For The Money: Katherine Heigl is a quirky divorcée working for her cousin’s bail-bond business and tracing a wanted man she used to date. Hilarity clearly does not ensue, because nothing about that sentence is even remotely appealing.
The Devil Inside: CONNECTICUT CONNECTICUT CONNECTICUT.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: Every time I see this trailer I feel hyperglycaemic.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Young Adult

  1. Guyliner says:

    One For The Money is based on a series of wisecracking, action-packed novels that aren’t necessarily my thing, but an OK read. I imagine Katherine Heigl’s involvement will suck all joy, life and, indeed, point out of them

    • Yeah – I wasn’t really aware of them before I saw the trailer, but discovered their existence after a quick Google search when I got home. The idea itself sounds fair enough, but I just question why people keep trying to cast Katherine Heigl as someone zany or wisecracking, because she just can’t pull it off. She just looked faintly embarrassed in every scene in the trailer.

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