in Review

Young Adult

Director Jason Reitman is kind of, sort of becoming an auteur. Through four films now, he’s told unique, character-focused stories full of wit and darkness. Young Adult‘s Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) follows in the footsteps of Nick Naylor, Juno and Ryan Bingham as a character deeply set in her ways, forced to confront the one thing that could actually change her life. Like those characters, Mavis stands in juxtaposition to the world around her. But her arc is much darker and less sympathetic than you might expect.

Mavis is a marginally successful author of a young adult fiction series. She didn’t actually create the series, she just ghost writes the latest entries in it. As she starts work on her latest novel, she immediately begins procrastinating and opens her email. There she finds a message from her old boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his daughter. Mavis interprets this as a sign that he wants her to save him from his wife and newborn and run away together. So she leaves the big city and heads home.

Before she can get to Buddy, Mavis runs into another former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) at a bar. Matt is a fat geek who was badly beaten by a group of jocks who thought he was gay in high school. They may not have gotten along in high school, but now the have a mutual love of alcohol and a mutual hate of their hometown. What they do not agree upon is Mavis’ crazy plan to win back Buddy. Chaos ensues.

Much emphasis is put on Mavis’ daily life. We see her sloppy home, her daily rituals, her writing process. Every day begins with a swig of Diet Coke. Her writing is inspired by crappy teen TV shows and eavesdropping. When necessary, she can clean up too. Clothes shopping, hair pieces, makeup, manicures and pedicures are all utilized to turn her into a super model, to make her stand out in her town of limping Patton Oswalts and poorly-bearded Patrick Wilsons.

By the end of the movie, it’s explained why Mavis is the way she is, why her plan made sense to her. But that actually makes her a less likable character. The big speech at the end is actually hilarious, because it’s the opposite of what I wanted to hear. That’s what makes this movie great, I think. It plays with your expectations, to a degree. Diablo Cody is the writer, but this feels nothing like Juno. It’s much more sincere, and bleak.

But it’s not Up in the Air. I think of all the Jason Reitman movies, this one is the hardest to like. It simply lacks the charm his first three movies had. But this film’s rawness makes it good in its own right. The three leads all give terrific performances, making it all the more enjoyable. Reitman is one of my favorite directors right now because he keeps growing as a filmmaker. This is a worthy step forward.