Young Adult

26 Dec

Title: Young Adult
Year: 2011
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Hettienne Park, J.K. Simmons
MPAA Rating: R, language and some sexual content
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Metacritic: 73

 

Oh what an awesome, awesome Christmas I’m having. I decided to skip any kind of family gathering or lunch or anything and spend a the day watching films I really thought I would potentially love. The result? I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy early, which was an A+ from me and the seventh best film so far this year. I saw We Need to Talk About Kevin in the afternoon, an A and currently the seventeenth best film of the year for me, and now I got to see Young Adult. Like I said, this is an awesome Christmas.

Because Young Adult certainly didn’t break the streak, I’ve now watched three truly great films in a row, and this one also extends Jason Reitman’s streak of delivering truly outstanding films. He broke out in 2005 with Thank You For Smoking, which was a really smart satire that I ranked as the thirty-first best film of that year; then of course he hit the big time in 2007 with Juno, my second favorite film of that year, one of my five favorite screenplays of the past decade (and the one from which the name of this site comes from) and the film that introduced us all to the incredible Ellen Page; and then in 2009 he cemented his status as a truly amazing director with Up in the Air, my favorite film of that year and that had George Clooney at his very best (though the actor surpassed those heights in this year’s The Descedants).

Young Adult has him re-teaming with Diablo Cody, who won the Oscar for the screenplay of Juno, and giving us the story of Mavis Gary, a woman who writes young adult novels for a living and that returns to the small town she grew up with to try and recapture the spark of her glory days, wanting to get back her high school sweetheart (who’s now married) and just behaving, as the double entendre of the title suggests, as a young adult, a grown-up woman who can’t seem to leave behind her teenage years and dreams. In the process she forms an unlikely bond with an old classmate who’s also having trouble leaving behind his days of high school, and the film goes on from there. And even though the character and the whole approach this film takes is much more snarky and sour than the stuff Mr. Reitman usually gives us, it’s still a really funny movie, and an actually remarkable exploration on these people that don’t know how to grow up, propelled to real greatness because of the performance of Charlize Theron as Mavis, and the one from the hilarious Patton Oswalt as Matt, that old classmate she strikes up a connection with.

This is just seriously my type of film, I’m too much of a Jason Reitman fan not to love this, and the way he handles this material is awesome, he knows how to execute that tone in which you can make fun of something while still being really affectionate towards it, and the fact that he could deliver such an acid portrayal of a woman, and not only get us to really laugh at it but actually sympathize, just a little bit, with her as well, is a truly remarkable feat. Though of course a lot of that credit also has to go to Ms. Theron, another great performance by a leading actress in a year that’s filled with truly memorable ones, she’s sensational here. It’s the character study of Mavis that really makes Young Adult stand out, and it’s all because of a really brave performance by Ms. Theron, who captures that really crappy side of a woman who inside is still a child, too obsessed by how popular she used to be to realize, much less admit, just how lonely she is now.

It’s a really difficult task to make a film about an unlikable protagonist, not to mention that we’ll probably like her less at the end of the film than what we did in the beginning. Mr. Reitman, Ms. Cody and Ms. Theron break the mold by giving us such a movie, a film that doesn’t follow any set of rules and gives us a look as to what may happen to those countless “Queen Bee” characters of the films of the 80’s as they hit forty. It’s just amazing how unnerving Mavis can be when we meet her, we get the gist that she’s divorced and now spends her time writing these novels, drinking and pulling her hair while she does so, and deciding that going back to her hometown and reuniting with her teenage sweetheart is the right move. Of course that the guy is now married and a first-time father only means that she’ll think she’s trapped in his marriage and decide to destroy said institution, arguing that they’re made for each other and whatnot. Like I said, it’s hard to root for Mavis.

It’s really a 180 that the Reitman-Cody partnership took going from Juno MacGuff to Mavis Gary. Juno was just super smart and hugely likable, Mavis is a woman you dislike from the get-go and she goes back to her hometown where everyone thinks she’s a success, and she goes there ready to break a marriage (incidentally, the Mini Cooper that Mavis drives is just like the one Ms. Theron’s character in The Italian Job drove). It’s like she thinks it’s not too late to set things straight and go back on the path she thinks was meant for her in life. And the job Patrick Wilson does with the role of Buddy, the highschool sweetheart, is actually really great, a nice guy who doesn’t know how quite to react when his old flame, who he thinks is just a glamorous and successful woman, comes back to his life, him holding a breast milk pump, and wants him to get back together with her.

But the best parts of the film were not the ones about the hunk she came looking for, but about the nerd she finds instead. That nerd being Matt, who’s played so, so well by Mr. Patton, who I’m a huge fan of. The film actually depends on him quite a lot, because, considering our lead character is unlikable, it’s Matt who’s the character we can relate to, the one that’s easy to connect with and that speaks the truth (though this truth is penned by Diablo Cody so it’s obviously much cooler than your truth or my truth). Not to mention that he’s just super geeky and makes his own action figures and owns a lot of indie band t-shirts, which makes Patton Oswalt perfect to play him and makes Matt a character I would obviously love.

Matt also distills his own bourbon, which is a quality Mavis loves, as she’s pretty much an alcoholic and that’s her poison of choice. That condition explains a lot about her: the fact that she’s single, that fact that she’s suffering from writer’s block, the mess that’s her life, how she wants to cling to a time in which she was the most popular girl in school. A time of which Matt serves as a reminder of, which may explain why she starts hanging out with him, even though while she was being crowned prom queen he was at the hospital after being severely beaten by bullies who thought he was gay even though he isn’t. It’s cringe-inducing to see how even towards a guy like Matt she complains about her life really seriously, wallowing in self-pity and having zero consideration for Matt.

Young Adult is a truly terrific movie, I really loved it and I’m giving it my eleventh perfect grade of the year (and second of the day!). I loved it because of how piercing a character study it is, I mean it’s obviously really funny too, but it’s so great because of how it presents Mavis to us. It never once tries to justify her behavior, but at least it gives a sincere depiction of this character, which maybe, just maybe, may earn the tiniest bit of your sympathy. Whether it does or it doesn’t is up to you (I’m personally still absorbing it, and want to watch it a second time), but the result is undeniable, this film is tremendous, the performances by Ms. Theron and Mr. Patton are nothing short of perfect, and Jason Reitman continues to extend one of the most impressive track records in Hollywood, and the fact that his next film will star Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin only suggests that streak will go on. For now, he’s four-for-four, and this one’s spectacular.

Grade: A+

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