Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Movie Review: "Young Adult" (2011)

Director: Jason Reitman
Year: 2011
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

A writer of young adult novels learns her old high school boyfriend and his wife have just had a baby. She decides to head back to their hometown to try and steal him away from her and "rescue him from his misery."
"It's like the rest of us changed. You just got lucky." (Image Source)
"Young Adult" can be summed up very simply: it's a movie where the protagonist's main goal is to steal a man away from his wife, who just gave birth to their first child. That's a tough character to get audiences to support. Then again, director Jason Reitman has made a career out of getting viewers to root for despicable personalities ("Thank You for Smoking," "Up in the Air," etc). This movie is written by Diablo Cody, who worked with Reitman previously on the film "Juno," which landed her an Academy Award for best screenplay. It stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, an author of young adult novels who is essentially a ghostwriter and doesn't get a ton of credit because the series she writes was originally created by someone else. While working on the final installment in her soon-to-be-canceled series, Mavis receives an e-mail from her old boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), announcing the birth of his and his wife's first child. This seemingly innocuous announcement sends Mavis into a manic state. She decides to return to the hometown that she hates so she can "rescue" Buddy from his "miserable family life in the middle of nowhere" by stealing him away from his wife. Sounds like a plan!
"The world will make sure you end up with the person you're meant to be with." (Image Source)
It's not often that someone creates a story where the audience roots for the main character to fail. That being said, whether or not Mavis can steal Buddy away from his wife is not the point of "Young Adult." The real point is more of a slice-of-life examination of an extremely flawed character who is desperate to reclaim the popularity she received in her youth. Mavis is a raging alcoholic and a completely self-centered, destructive person who regularly hurts other people. We find out that she is responsible for a lot of misfortune, including starting a rumor that led to the severe beating/near death of a fellow student back in high school. Matt (Patton Oswalt), the former student in question, is still enamored with her since he was the nerdy kid who always had a crush on the popular girl in high school. Though she makes it extremely difficult, we start to feel a bit of sympathy for Mavis as the movie rolls along its runtime. There are many times where she recognizes her issues and openly tells people that she believes she's an alcoholic. The people around her, however, seem so taken by the fact she is a novelist who "got out" of their small, nothing town that they enable and encourage her self-destructive behavior. Her parents brush off the idea that their daughter is an alcoholic as soon as it is mentioned. She also learns what she mistakes for affection by some is actually pity. "Young Adult" is not a film where Mavis has a huge character arc or even a life-changing revelation. In fact, as the movie wraps up, it's pretty obvious that she hasn't learned or changed much from the humbling, mortifying events that befell her in just a few scenes prior.
"Guys like me are born loving women like you" (Image Source)
Charlize Theron gives a fantastic performance as Mavis. The little likability and empathy we build for her character is a direct result of Theron's talent and charisma as an actress. She is absolutely brilliant here. Patton Oswalt is also wonderful as Matt though he plays a little "to type." Oswalt plays the self-deprecating Star Wars geek who gets to deliver a wry, sarcastic, funny quip at a moment's notice, but he also offers some sage advice with strong emotional impact based on his life experiences. Patrick Wilson also plays to type as Buddy, but if the "to-type" is pretty damn right, does it even matter at that point? Buddy is the stereotypical popular guy jock-turned-husband-turned-father who ended up with a woman who compliments him and brings out the best in him (despite Mavis' insistence that he is miserable). Finally, Elizabeth Reaser's performance as Buddy's wife Beth is excellent, though she is a much more minor character than the others.
"He drives a Jeep Liberty, which is ironic because he has no liberty." (Image Source)
This is the second time we have watched "Young Adult," and we liked it much more this time around. Maybe the years have made us appreciate it a bit more as we are a bit older, wiser, and more understanding. We are sensitive to Mavis' issues and see her situation as not entirely black and white. Plus, we have come to appreciate the idea of an unlikable protagonist a bit more since it deviates from the typical Hollywood formula (which we've come to realize is a specialty of both Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody). Give this one a chance if you think you'd like a movie that will give you massive secondhand embarrassment ripe with emotion, raw honesty, and painful truth.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
RT Rating: 81%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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