Young Adult Review
By Bret Dorman
Remember that movie Juno? A lot of people liked it then when everyone found out everyone else liked it there was a sort of backlash and some people decided to not like it. I don’t thing writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman’s newest collaboration Young Adult will have that problem. The niche seems a tad bit smaller and only the real fans will defend the movie while everyone else will feel pretty comfortable saying they don’t like. So which category do I fall into? Sort of, kind of, begrudgingly… a fan.
The Story: Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) returns back to her small home town in Minnesota to win back her old high school fling, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Meanwhile, high school geek and victim of a brutal (misguided) hate crime Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) attempts to dissuade her of her plan. Also, she REALLY likes alcohol and warm diet coke.
Diablo Cody got a little bit of backlash for her poppy dialogue in Juno. Some people thought it was a little too clever. But I like dialogue that is self aware of its own coolness. People in real life talk like that sometimes, they force cool phrases into their normal vocabulary. They way you talk says a lot about you. Some people try very hard to talk a certain way. With Young Adult, Cody is aware of this criticism. Mavis ghost writes for a Young Adult (That’s the name of the movie!) Fantasy Harry Potter-esque book series. She takes dialogue she overhears teens say and uses them in her books. Cody also seems to not be saying “look how cool my dialogue is!” but rather “look! I don’t have to draw too much attention to my dialogue, see how much this isn’t drawing attention to itself!” It could be annoying to people who really pay attention to it, but ultimately I feel this movie does have a point and something to say, so it isn’t just an exercise in ‘cool dialogue’.
What I really like about this film, is that is makes no attempt to justify or sympathize with Mavis’ psychosis (not quite sure that’s the right word?). In a film like Taxi Driver, which is shot primarily from Travis Bickle’s point of view, you could almost argue some of the scenes are a little skewed to how he wanted to view them. In the end the movie doesn’t justify his actions, but it gives us an insight into why Travis would think they are justified. Young Adult right off the bat makes no attempt at this, you know she is crazy and Matt’s character persistently points it out. You’re not supposed to root for her to win, you’re supposed to root for her to change.
Patton Oswalt delivers a great sarcastic performance. It’s like his usually stand up persona but a little less energetic. Much like Mavis, his character is stuck in the past. Mavis’ obsesses over Buddy, back when they were together and she mattered. By hooking back up with him she thinks that she will go back to being ‘cool’ and admired. Matt is more obsessed with the past and how something out of his control has marked him and become his defining trait and disability. They both are sort of outcasts who need each others’ friendship because they are the only two people who can stand to be with them and really see the others’ potential.
Patrick Wilson is awesome. Buddy is so innocently aloof to Mavis’ plan that calls for a complete overhaul of his entire life, including ditching the wife and kid. He keeps unknowingly feeding her bits and pieces to manipulate and hang on to, hints that he wants to see her and even be with her when in fact he just sort of feels sorry for her. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t have the heart to call her out on being totally messed up. Patrick Wilson always finds a way to no matter what his role is, the genre of movie, the ability of his surrounding cast (whether it be good or bad) to deliver a good performance. I hope he gets some juicier roles that let’s him have fun and/or let loose more.
Young Adult promotes itself as that cynical look back at high school and rooting against the popular girl because she really is a terrible person. I went into this movie thinking I would not enjoy it because if all this movie had to say was “Aren’t popular girls stupid and mean?! Yeah let’s torture them in a movie and make bad things happen to them!” But this movie isn’t really about being cynical towards people who were mean to you in high school, the cynicism is more aimed at people in general. Mavis is fleshed out enough to not just be a high school shell of a character. The movie doesn’t make bad things happen to bad people for no reason, nor does it celebrate a person’s undoing. The climactic scene where Mavis unravels is a truly awkward moment where you feel disturbed by her behavior and hope she gets better. Theron plays Mavis like a horror character, someone who has malicious intents but also a vulnerable side.
The only thing really to point out here is the end. After sleeping with Matt for the night, Mavis goes upstairs and sees his sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe). In one of the only nice, selfless things Mavis does for someone else in the movie, she ours Sandra some more coffee. After a brief discussion where Mavis hints that she may have learned the errors of her ways, that she may actually change and become a better person who doesn’t care what other people think of her and is out for more of a more personal and rewarding experience Sandra ruins it all. And what Sandra does is not malicious, she is trying to help. But since she only knows the idea of what Mavis is trying to be, she gets it wrong. She tells Mavis that she needs to keep doing what she is doing, to not give up. In any other movie for any other character this would probably be the right thing to say. To motivate someone to their potential. But here it is motivating someone to continue their self-destructive behavior. It’s a downer of an ending but somewhat satisfying because it (hastily) shows us that people don’t change, they’ll find any excuse to stay the same. It raises the question on if people really can change…
In Conclusion, the advertising wanted me to go in thinking Young Adult would be a fantasy about seeing a popular kid get her comeuppance. Instead its a clever film about a woman who ghost writes seeking the attention she craves. Wouldn’t mind if Cody/Reitman teamed up for one more just to make a trilogy of sorts, but really looking forward to Reitman’s future while still interested in Cody’s.
Final Grade: B