Watched Jul 06, 2012
David Merryweather’s review:
The unused tagline for this film was: "That girl you hated in school is now 37".
This latest Reitman/Cody joint finds that the high school megabitch is now a writer living in the 'big city' - except that her writing work is drying up and she is divorced and deeply dissatisfied with her life.
What is unique and interesting about Young Adult is that it tackles what is essentially a woman's mid-life crisis. The lead female character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) - a ghost-writer of young adult fiction for a teenage girl market - is someone who has, to some degree, avoided adult responsibility herself, and now begins to pine for her own lost youth.
Just as the 1970s experienced a wave of nostalgia for the 1950s, I feel that this decade will see a lot of looking back at the '90s, now that those who were in their teens then are now in their thirties. And Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody (both 34) have made a film in which the lead character is so desperate to recapture the life she was living in the '90s, that she travels back to her hometown hoping to hook back up with her old high school squeeze, Buddy Slade, even though he has happily settled down with a wife and new born baby.
On the drive down, Mavis plays a cassette mixtape Buddy made for her back in the day, full of early '90s college rock like 4 Non Blondes, The Lemonheads, and Teenage Fanclub - whose track "The Concept" Mavis rewinds and plays over and over, it being 'their song' (or at least the song that she fondly remembers was playing when she "went down" on him). This tape becomes the film's nostalgic soundtrack in the way that the rock'n'roll blaring from the car radios in 1973's American Graffiti formed the soundtrack for that particular movie.
Charlize Theron is typically fearless and funny as the narcissistic "prom queen bitch" turned broken-down stalker. Her Mavis Gary is such an enjoyable monster, and one which, refreshingly, turns out to be irredeemably self-centered to the end. To have had a pat seeing-the-error-of-their-ways style character conversion would have been a betrayal of the black-hearted world-view that Diablo Cody constructs in her brilliantly barbed script.
And anyone needing a 'sympathetic' character to hold their hand through every film they watch gets one here in the not insubstantial form of Patton Oswalt's school fat kid turned loser-nerd, Matt. Oswalt (the former best US male stand-up before Louis CK claimed his crown) provides Theron's character with an unlikely confidante and critic, acting as a sort of soundboard for the audience as Matt tries to - unsuccessfully -talk some sense into Mavis.
It too is a finely judged performance; touchingly bittersweet, Matt still carries the outer scars of a high school beating just as he carries a torch for the once oblivious Mavis. The scenes with the two of them together bring out the best in the film's sharp, cynical humour and underlying tragedy.
Young Adult is a comedic, yet unflinching, character study of a woman whose life is careening out of control due to her bad choices and her alcoholism - which Cody deftly handles and never hammers - and who then tries to recross bridges that she has long since burnt. It is, as they say, as funny as Hell.