Young Adult (2011)
“Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up”
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt
Synopsis: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now happily married and has a newborn daughter.
Young Adult, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s first collaboration since Juno (2007), was promoted as a kind of sardonic comedy, but if it’s a comedy at all – in truth, Young Adult is more of a tragedy than a comedy – it’s the kind that is intended to provoke wry, knowing smiles on the faces of a select few in the know. Mavis Gary, the film’s protagonist, is a damaged individual whose thought processes and subsequent actions can only be partially pardoned by her self-confessed alcoholism – a rare moment of self-awareness on her part that is laughed off by her mother. The fact that much of Mavis’s erratic behaviour is explained by a final reel revelation does curiously little to initiate any kind of shift in our opinion of her while calling into question the actions of other characters in the movie.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a drop-dead gorgeous writer of novels for young adults who life is slowly falling apart. She lives alone, drinks too much and treats her dog terribly. Things are only made worse when she receives an e-mail from Buddy (Patrick Wilson), her former high school boyfriend, informing her that his wife has just given birth to their first baby. A photograph of the baby is attached to the e-mail. Mavis decides that Buddy is desperately unhappy and returns to their hometown of Mercury determined to break up his marriage and save him from a life of dull mediocrity.
There’s no denying that Young Adult is the work of a unique and insightful talent capable of creating work of a dark and caustic hue. But what Diablo Cody seems to have overlooked as she attempts to expose the myth of happiness is the fact that the audience has to like a character if it’s going to invest any emotional currency in their ultimate fate. The truth is we don’t really care what happens to Mavis, and the longer the film goes on the more we feel like averting our gaze, reluctant to witness the crash that is inevitably coming. Cody at least provides Mavis with a conscience in the twisted form of Matt, a schoolmate she never noticed as a teen who suffered an adolescent beating at the hands of ‘jocks’ who mistakenly believed him to be homosexual which left him deformed ‘down south.’ Matt could almost be a product of Mavis’s own mind, a psychological defence. He seems to have done his job by the end of the film, but then he’s discarded in the same way that the rest of Mercury is cast aside. Dismissed and instantly forgotten. Mavis doesn’t change, she doesn’t learn or improve, she just realises that those to whose settled lifestyle she briefly aspired are just as unhappy as she is.