Young Adult is an odd movie. It’s kind of like My Best Friend’s Wedding, but rather than giving it the Hollywood sheen and making the protagonist as appealing as possible, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody appear to have gone out of their way to steer Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary in the opposite direction. It makes for solid, if uncomfortable viewing – it’s a brave move that doesn’t quite work.
Theron’s Mavis is a writer of young adult literature (I’m pretty sure that’s an oxymoron, but anyway) who discovers that her old High School boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has recently had a child with his wife. Mavis travels to her old hometown of Mercury in an attempt to woo him back and relive their glory days as a couple. On arrival she meets Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate who she once ignored. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship as Mavis struggles to come to terms with her unhappy existence.
You could say that Young Adult is the first film in Charlize Theron’s ‘Bitch Trilogy’, as she followed it up with Snow White and The Huntsman and Prometheus, three films where she plays far from likeable characters – although this could be stretched into a quadrilogy when (if?) we learn more about her role in Mad Max: Fury Road. However, here it’s much more uncomfortable to watch as Young Adult is not based on a fairy tale or set on a far-off planet –sycophants like this really exist in our world today. Theron throws herself into the role, relishing the opportunity, but not hamming it up. There are no knowing winks to the camera; this performance is as dedicated as her Oscar-winning performance in Monster, only without the make-up.
If Jason Reitman built on George Clooney’s persona in Up In The Air, then he deconstructs Theron’s for Young Adult. It’s a brave move, but it’s easy to see why this film didn’t score as big as Juno or the aforementioned Clooney starrer at the box office. Audiences don’t want to see their stars dig deep into the dirt of reality – they want to see them shine.
For me the highlight of the film was Patton Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf, a man filled with as much hatred as Mavis, but he has come to terms with his place in life, having let go of the past – something that Mavis cannot do. However, Patrick Wilson has little to do as Buddy, except stand around looking confused – at least that’s a damn sight more than in Prometheus!
Young Adult is a solid film, it’s not Cody or Reitman’s best effort, but it has enough going for it to make it a worthwhile watch. It’s a two-handed character piece, with Theron and Oswalt anchoring the film with their dedicated performances.