Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswald and Patrick Wilson
Directed by Jason Reitman
94 min., R
Release date Dec. 9, 2011
The premise of “Young Adult”—a former prom queen returns to her hometown to wow her old boyfriend—might make you think it’s a comedy bubbling with bawdy reunion laughs and lost-love lightning.
And in other, more unsure moviemaking hands, it might have been.
But director Jason Reitman (whose solid resume includes “Up In The Air,” “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno”), working from a strong script by “Juno” writer Diablo Cody, has crafted something smarter, sharper and more serious than the standard R-rated, grownups-behaving-badly multiplex yukfest.
It’s the story of a 30-something teen-fiction author (Charlize Theron) whose seemingly glamorous, big-city life is really a lonely, self-absorbed, alcohol-fueled, arrested-adolescence train wreck.
The movie takes its title from the name of the series of “young-adult” romantic novels ghost-written by Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, who’s still stuck in the semi-autobiographical, make-believe, high-school-forever world like the one she’s built for her characters—especially when she embarks on a mission to re-connect with her now happily married old flame (Patrick Wilson) and “free” him from his wife and their new baby.
Like the rollers inside the old cassette tape that Mavis plays over and over in her dilapidated car, her own wheels are likewise spinning round and round but getting her nowhere, to the same old, endlessly looping song.
“Young Adult” is being marketed as a comedy-drama, and it’s truly a hybrid of both. The drama is never really about whether Mavis will be successful in her quest; it’s whether or not she’ll ever realize just how pathetic, unsympathetic, and stunted she really is. The comedy comes from the audience seeing the self-delusion that drives Mavis along her clueless, brazenly confident path, while it’s completely oblivious to Mavis herself.
Reitman’s movie works on several levels, especially in the heartbreaking character of Matt Freeheuf (Patton Oswald), one of Mavis’ former classmates, whose bent and broken body reminds him every day of a teenage trauma that was the nightmarish flip side of Mavis’ rose-colored memories.
And it’s equally heartbreaking when Mavis’ attempt to tell her parents about her drinking problem falls on deaf ears. “I think I might be an alcoholic,” she says in a rare moment of self-awareness they quickly brush aside.
Another movie might have had Theron and Patton’s characters discover that they’re really soul mates, two fractured people both stuck in the past for very different reasons, who finally find each other. But this movie doesn’t cop to such a neat, easy, uplifting Hollywood ending.
Instead, it leaves you with lingering thoughts about what success really means, about happiness and how elusive it can be, and about how some people, sadly, never quite evolve to anything more mature than a “young adult.”