- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s been four years since “Juno” introduced the moviegoing world to Diablo Cody, and in that time, the writer has gone from adulated new kid on the block to forgotten one-hit wonder. Though I still believe that “Jennifer’s Body” is grossly underrated, Cody was never going to be taken seriously as a screenwriter until she could prove to people that she's more than just a pop culture vending machine of quirky one-liners. “Young Adult” is that movie – a darkly comical tale about becoming an adult without actually growing up. It probably won’t receive the same kind of praise or success as Cody and Jason Reitman’s last collaboration, but thanks to a great script and some standout performances from the cast, “Young Adult” is one of the most daringly original and enjoyable films of the year.
Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a self-absorbed ghostwriter for a once-popular series of young adult novels who’s struggling to finish the last commissioned book. She’s the perfect author to be writing for a teenage girl audience because she still acts like one. Stuck in the glory days of high school and reeling from a recent divorce, Mavis decides to head back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to try and win back her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he’s now happily married and has just welcomed a new baby into the family. But Mavis believes that Buddy is a hostage to his ordinary life and devises a plan to seduce him against the advice of Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate who has more in common with Mavis than she would care to admit.
Although she’s been MIA from the movie scene for a couple of years, Theron delivers her best performance since “Monster” as the beautiful but bitchy Mavis, instilling just enough vulnerability in the character to make her sympathetic even when her selfish tendencies lead her to spin out of control. Mavis might say some pretty nasty things (and that could prove to be a stumbling block for Academy voters), but it’s Theron’s ability to walk that fine line without becoming a complete social monster that makes her performance so impressive. Patton Oswalt also fares surprisingly well as Mavis’ go-to confidant, a victim of a hate crime that's left him physically disabled and justifiably more angry with the world than Mavis has any right to be. It’s their impromptu friendship that reveals the cracks in Mavis' life, making her a lot easier to like despite her elitist attitude and ultimately preventing the movie from crumbling under such a polarizing personality.
Charlize Theron deserves a lot of credit for bringing Mavis to life, but none of it would have been possible without Diablo Cody’s biting script, which is admittedly light on story but has some fantastically realized characters at its core. Although “Juno” earned Cody a lot of recognition for its blending of quirky comedy with poignant drama, “Young Adult” is even better, if only because it’s more mature and takes the kind of chances you don't normally find in a typical Hollywood dramedy. In fact, there are a lot of people who probably won’t like this un-coming-of-age tale, not only because Mavis is so callous, but because Reitman and Cody refuse to let her off the hook just for the sake of a happy ending. That may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but it’s considerably more realistic – a quality that makes “Young Adult” as unexpectedly affecting as it is wickedly funny.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Though I’m a little surprised that “Young Adult” was completely shut out of awards season, Paramount has still done a fine job with the Blu-ray release. In addition to a lively audio commentary by director Jason Reitman, DP Eric Steelberg and 1st AD Jason Blumenfeld, the single-disc effort also includes a solid making-of featurette (“Misery Loves Company”), a behind-the-scenes look at how the script evolved during filming (“The Awful Truth”), an entertaining Q&A featuring Reitman at the Jacob Burns Film Center, a handful of deleted scenes and an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie.