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Movie Review: Young Adult

December 16, 2011

Larry David. Seinfeld. Ben Stiller’s Greenberg. The entire cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa.  They are all unlikable misanthropes, but now they’re getting some stiff competition from Mavis (Charlize Theron), a bitchy beauty skating by on her sunny good looks when she is rotten to the core on the inside.

Mavis is the troubled protagonist of Young Adult, the latest movie from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), who points his camera toward the self-entitled “me” generation who think they deserve whatever they want, whenever they want, consequences be damned.

Mavis lives an utterly selfish existence. She drinks herself into oblivion every night and indiscriminately sleeps with men. Her job consists of being a ghostwriter for a popular tween book series, which affords her enough money to live comfortably in the city with her neglected dog.  One day she receives by an email from her old flame, Buddy. It’s a baby announcement, and it catches Mavis off guard, to say the least. She decides that the best course of action is to pack her bags and return to her hometown (that she despises) to stake a claim on her old love. No matter that he is a happily married man; that’s a minor detail.

Upon Mavis’s arrival, she immediately runs into former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) who was beaten so badly in High School that he is permanently disabled. The two forge an odd friendship largely based on the consumption of hard liquor (his hobby is tinkering with a distillery in his garage). Mavis makes no pretense that Matt is worthy of being in her presence, but as the movie unfolds, she comes to appreciate him as an equal. It’s unlikely, unrealistic, and simply lovely to behold.

Diablo Cody penned the story, and I can now forgive her for Jennifer’s Body. I loved that a woman played this role, and I loved that she is such an enigma-so stunningly beautiful, yet so ugly. We don’t see that often in films. Men usually play that role, but Charlize Theron nails it as the miserable being who outwardly has it all.  Her performance is uncomfortable to watch, and her character is equal parts infuriating and endearing. At the one point in the movie when she is being brutally honest, she confesses to her parents that she thinks she is an alcoholic (she is). Their quick and casual response is absolute dismissal of such a ridiculous idea. It’s sort of heartbreaking to see exactly what everyone’s expectations of her are. It’s little wonder that she is such a mess.

Patton Oswalt is fantastic as Matt. I wanted to jump through the screen and give his character a big hug. Patrick Wilson is Buddy, the object of Mavis’s misled obsession, and he is reliable as usual. Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight) plays his beleaguered wife, and if I had one complaint about the film, I think she might be miscast. I didn’t buy them as a couple, but that’s a minor quibble. The film zips by at a lean 90 minutes, and it is wickedly funny.

Reitman silently speaks volumes about superficiality and vanity with the film. One  sequence shows how much work Mavis puts into her outward façade-gobs of makeup, a hairpiece for her thinning hair, support garments and expensive clothing. Her exterior is such an orchestrated and calculated mirage, and it is truly sad.

If you’re reading this review, chances are you want some guidance on whether to see the film. For those of you who can’t stand movies with unlikable characters, just skip it. Young Adult is for the rest of us.

Rating: 4/5


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