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Mavis Gary, once the high school 'It Girl', now an alcoholic divorcée who writes a soon to be canceled young adult fiction series, makes the decision to return to her childhood home in Minnesota. There she embarks on a plan to win back her former sweetheart, Buddy. The fact that Buddy is now married with a baby doesn't dissuade her. Along the way, she forms a bond with Matt Freehauf, another former classmate, who has been left disabled by a beating he took from a bunch of jocks. Written by
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Finally a holiday movie comes along that dares to ask, " Can a high school prom queen steal her happily married ex-boyfriend from his wife and newborn child and find true love? " From the team that brought us the classic comedy, Juno, comes the wickedly entertaining, and to some, offensive Young Adult.
Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, this dark comedy explores the aspirations of a beautiful, vain, and selfish woman as she schemes to breakup a marriage and reclaim her former sweetheart, Buddy. Now divorced, Mavis Gary ( Charlize Theron ), a ghostwriter of teen literature conveniently found in the YA section of bookstores everywhere, has never grown up and never had the life she felt destined to have. ( After all, she was voted Best Hair in her high school yearbook! ) Her life is in ruins, an eternal victim of herself. She decides to return to her small hometown hoping to snare her former sweetheart ( nicely downplayed by Patrick Wilson ) and with that in mind, live some of the glories of her past life. As Mavis mentions in one scene, "Love conquers all. "Haven't you seen The Graduate? " She lives in a fantasy world, clouded by booze.
Giving her a reality check about her plans is a dweeb from the past, Matt Freehauf ( Patton Oswalt ), whom Mavis meets at a local bar. She doesn't so much rekindle their friendship as she never had time for him before, just not in her league back then. "Oh, you're that hate crime guy," she says when they meet. Insensitive, yes. That's Mavis, and yes, Matt was permanently injured in a gay hate crime during his senior year, although he wasn't gay at all. Shades of irony! ( Not that there's anything wrong with that, yada, yada!) Alcohol (and there's plenty in use when Mavis is around ) brings these two lost souls together, that and Mavis' far- fetched dreaming.
Theron has the difficult role of making such a repulsive and mean-spirited woman, if not likable, at least, tolerable. She never tries to ingratiate herself. Instead, she depicts a mean girl caught in the throngs of arrested development and expects the movie audience to deal with it. Her acting choices work beautifully inside and out. Theron uses her expressive beauty and sexual allure to hide Mavis' twisted and unpleasant traits. Hopefully, this honest and compelling performance won't turn off Academy voters due to its nasty portrayal of its anti-heroine. It's a wonderful job of acting.
Oswalt gives a fully dimensional comic portrait of a small town loser type with bigger dreams. He's living with his sister. He's alone. He's Mavis' conscience and he's working overtime. He's the voice of reason ( and the sensible voice of the movie audience as well. ). Oswalt plays his character as an endearing slug, a man-child full of sage advice and bitter disappointment. It is a finely honed comic performance.
Cleverly scripted, Young Adult is filled with smart one-liners that advance the action and are keeping with their flawed characters. Yet the film carries with it a more serious tone, not the laugh-a-minute movie one would suspect from the trailer. The characters and their situations verge on the real with the comically surreal. In an uncomfortable but pivotal scene, Mavis addresses Buddy's married life with consoling words and advice that " we can beat this thing together" and leave his KenTacoHut world behind. Cody's sharply observed and cynical view of small town life is imbued in her characters and may be distasteful to some moviegoers, although I found this film quite amusing and droll. The only objection to the film was in two of the film's final scenes ( which were effectively done but inaccurate to the characters' true motivations and actions).
Reitman is again drawn to damaged characters in his leading roles as he had successfully done with films like Juno and Up in the Air. He is relentless in his ability to make such complicated people completely fascinating as they free fall into despair. He makes their journey filled with ironic and satirical possibilities, making the negative positively comic in tone.
Young Adult resists the sweet rosy side of life. It humorously embraces the sad fatalistic notion of our everyday existence, supplanting upbeat and unattainable desires with a refreshingly downbeat sensibility. And that's seems very grown-up to me. GRADE: B+
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