When director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody teamed up in 2007 for Juno, they struck gold. All of a sudden, their small independent movie was seeing a wide release and garnering a number of award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture at the Oscars. Since then, Reitman has directed the wonderful Up in the Air, another terrific movie that, similar to Juno, was met with critical acclaim and awards nominations. Cody, on the other hand, moved onto Jennifer’s Body, a lackluster (if even a bit underrated) horror comedy that tried far too hard to capture that Juno magic. Now she is back with a new script and working with the director that made her somebody. The end result is Young Adult, an occasionally funny, sometimes clever, but all around mediocre vehicle for Charlize Theron in the most unlikable role she’s ever been in. And she was in Monster. Think about that.
In the film, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer who is in the process of writing the last book in a popular young adult series. Her draft is due soon, but she has barely begun to write it. This is due to her infatuation with an old fling, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. The problem is he’s married and he’s about to have a baby. She knows this thanks to the invitation she was sent to join him and his wife in their celebration, but she doesn’t care. She plans on breaking them up and taking him for herself.
Mavis is a terrible person. There’s no getting around it. Some may argue that as one of the film’s strengths. Some will see deep meaning in her actions and words. They’ll see some statement on humanity and desperation, but they’ll be reaching. Not all movies have likable characters, but those movies don’t necessarily try to make you like them. Young Adult does. You’re supposed to laugh at her excess, her rudeness, her vulgarity, but it’s very hard to do so. She is trying to break up a perfectly happy marriage, one where a kid is on the way, for her own selfish gain. She has one friend in the small town she grew up in, Matt, played by Patton Oswalt, who she treats terribly, despite the fact that years ago he was brutally beaten and left to die by a group of people who just happened to think he was gay. She’s also a hypocrite, telling Matt at one point to stop living in the past and dwelling on his terrible event, despite the entire fact that she’s back in her hometown solely because she wants so badly to be with her high school boyfriend, unable to follow her own advice.
Young Adult may send mixed messages about how we are supposed to approach this character, but it does show hints of intelligence. Mavis, as terrible as she is, is hard to take seriously. She’s a writer of those silly tween novels and she treats her life like one. She has this fantasy that she will ride off into the sunset with Buddy and live happily ever after. She has spent her entire career building unrealistic fantasies that she’s now starting to believe in them. When she has a late movie speech about how Buddy is her moon and stars, it’s not cheesy and laughable like it would be in a different film. It’s actually kind of brilliant.
The relationship between Mavis and Matt also takes some nice unexpected turns and the chemistry between the two actors is surprisingly good. Oswalt in particular plays well in another quirky role, but after starring in the underseen, but absolutely fantastic Big Fan, one can’t help but want more for him. Still, he’s good enough to make this movie watchable, though not enough to make up for its shortcomings. There are some great moments in Young Adult that hint at a great movie hidden somewhere in it. It’s just a shame Cody and Reitman couldn’t find it.
Young Adult receives 2.5/5