Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswald
By Alan Bacchus
It's interesting that despite being Reitman’s least successful film at the box office, Young Adult is probably his best. Thank You for Smoking was an interesting premise and a decent first feature, Juno, its Oscars notwithstanding, seems too sweet and conflict-free with today’s eyes, and Up in the Air was a shamelessly contrived new millennium tragi-comedy.
Young Adult, written by Juno scribe Diablo Cody, is the most honest film of the four. It’s the story of a hack writer from Minneapolis, recently dumped by her boyfriend, who rebounds with a vengeance on her suburban hometown and her old high school boy toy.
Mavis Gary (wonderfully played by Charlize Theron) is damaged goods. She’s insecure, lonely, depressed in her job, and when she’s cc’d on a baby announcement by her former high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Wilson), she decides to jump in her Mini, go back home and steal him away from his suburban hellhole. But when she arrives, he’s a changed man, happily married and domesticated. That doesn’t stop her from aggressively and pathetically pining after him.
Mavis finds solace in another damaged soul, Matt (Oswald), a former loser afflicted with a leg injury from high school bullying. Together they drown their mutual sorrows in his homemade whisky. All the while Matt discovers his own inner beauty by witnessing Mavis’s self-destruction.
There’s a strong, relatable but bitchy, sympathetic human being at the core of this picture. Cody’s absurd plotting and witty dialogue masks a sad and lonely character study of a woman suffering from a feeling of displacement and inadequacy. Part of this is physical – Reitman is careful to show Mavis checking herself in the mirror constantly, stuffing her bra for more cleavage and coiffing herself to the max in order to exert her superiority over her old friends. Even though Mavis (via Theron) is still a gorgeous figure, it’s her self-loathing with which we can identify.
Reitman seems to make a fetish of the mundane details of people’s regular life routines – not only Mavis plucking her eyebrows or doing her nails, but pathetically using her own spit to fool her shitty ink jet printer into squeezing out one more faded print-out. These minute details speak volumes and are key to establishing the humble middle American realism in which the film is grounded.
The supporting actors are all well cast, specifically Patrick Wilson playing into type as the handsome doofus, Buddy Slade, who’s characterized as a former hot shot now relegated to bagging pumped breast milk. Cody admirably reverses our pre-conceived notions of Slade and the residents of the community as emasculated failures living in a depressingly moderate small town by revealing Mavis as a pathetic poseur who clings onto her shabby career and Minneapolis city lifestyle as her defense mechanism to life.
Young Adult is the most challenging and profound film of Reitman’s and Cody’s career. It's a mature shift for both filmmakers. Sadly, the failure of the film might have them going back to precious filmmaking of the Juno and Up in the Air variety.
Young Adult is available on Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment.