Young Adult (Movie Review)

Young Adult movie posterAfter Juno, it was difficult to tell whether screenwriter Diablo Cody was a future star or a gimmicky one-hit wonder. A few years later, her new movie Young Adult makes it clear that she truly has writing talent. The cutesy slang that drove Juno is gone, but the believable characters and interesting situations remain. Of course, those characters and situations are still overly clever, but without insulting our intelligence like most dramas do.

The only real flaw left in Cody’s writing is her lack of subtlety. The characters are complex and nuanced in a manner of speaking, but it’s all on the surface. Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a Young Adult fiction writer who – surprise! – hasn’t grown beyond her own days as a young adult. Her stories bitterly try to justify her past as a self-absorbed prom queen, every night she drinks until she passes out with her clothes and the TV still on, and her first act in the morning is to chug from a bottle of Coca-Cola without bothering to close the refrigerator. When she hears that her high school boyfriend (played by Patrick Wilson) is a happily married father, she returns to her old hick town on a mission to win him back.

The plot and dialogue are smooth and witty enough to seem like a feel-good comedy at first glance, but Mavis’ darkly funny self-destruction is for an artsier, feel-bad audience. The characters look frumpy and realistic, and the camera wavers with a calculated lack of polish. Theron and Wilson play their roles perfectly and realistically as the protagonist obliviously sails through a world of genuine people she can’t comprehend. The real star, both in acting and as a character, is played by Patton Oswalt, who is literally crippled from his days as Mavis’ classmate. Shunned at the time, he’s now the only person bitter enough to understand Mavis, and he plays his role with a perfect mix of adult confidence and self-loathing.

It’s frequently difficult to believe that Mavis could be oblivious enough to stick to her course of action, but some (unsubtle) hints of mental problems may explain it. With just a little generosity on the part of the viewer, this builds naturally to a surprisingly awkward climax and an appropriate, but unexpected, resolution. Young Adult is a tragically funny slice of life. exaggerated but feeling true despite that.

Grade: B


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