Young Adult

For a Diablo Cody-scribed film, Young Adult is refreshingly free of the cringe-inducing slang of her earlier efforts. It’s a welcome change and a necessary one too – the film’s major theme is growing up.

Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a late thirty-something novelist of a young adult fiction series who spends her evenings downing shots, eating KFC, and perpetually watching the shows on the E! network. After receiving an e-mail from an old flame (a mass e-mail to his contacts list about the birth of his baby daughter) Mavis decides to leave the big city of Minneapolis and return to her hometown of Mercury to “rescue” her old flame – Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) – from his (presumably) dreary home life.

Young Adult is the latest entry in “cringe” entertainment. Most of the plot revolves around incidents where Mavis acts inappropriately, often oblivious to the discomfort her actions cause to the other characters. This is the type of comedy popularized in The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm – uncomfortable, awkward, and – much like a train wreck – difficult to look away from. Young Adult pushes this concept a bit too far at times, making it literally painful to watch as Mavis drinks and blunders her way through another social occasion.

While Theron does an admirable job of portraying Mavis as a woman frozen in adolescence, Patton Oswalt  steals the movie as Matt Freehauf, an aging geek unable to move forward from a vicious physical attack in high school that handicapped him. The most quietly heartbreaking (and horribly ironic) scene takes place when Freehauf explains that his attack was covered by national news outlets as a gay hate crime, but once the media realized he wasn’t gay, the coverage ended. Freehauf acts as Mavis’ voice of reason – one she ignores rather than listens to – and also the only true friend she has during her visit in Mercury. Oswalt acts as an excellent foil to Mavis, and it’s noticeable that the film declines in quality when Freehauf is absent because Mavis is essentially a one-note character (i.e. thirty-something who clings to her glory days as the most popular girl in high school to a pathetic degree) with little room to grow.

Young Adult is an interesting, albeit slightly flat, character study of a lost woman. I’m not really sure if Mavis learns anything from revisiting her past, and that may be the point. She’s ignored the truth so long that she may be incapable of growth. Then again, it may be a conscious choice – better to be the high school prom queen rather than the washed-up adult.

Grade: B-

 

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