Review: Young Adult (2011)

Director: Jason Reitman

****

We all think we know someone like Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron); attractive, painfully svelte, heavily made-up and contemptuous. This is the snobby queen bitch that ruled the roost in every high school, dated the jocks and hated just about everyone. Guess what? She never changed.

Young Adult is a horror film in comedy’s clothing. Mavis is simply a horrible person who induces cringes wherever she goes. Despite a job writing for a popular series of teenage novels, it seems the now mid-30s Mavis never grew up. She wears clothes aimed at girls half her age, has Diet Coke for breakfast and carries her little pomeranian dog (named Dolce) in her handbag. This combination is not pleasant, but there has to be some piece of functioning humanity inside that blonde head, right? Alas, insanity seems to have taken over when she resolves to go back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to win back her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) after he invites her to a party for his newborn daughter. ‘Yikes’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

Director Jason Reitman has explored some unlikeable people in the past (think Aaron Eckhart in Thank You For Smoking), and he and writer Diablo Cody scored a hit with another lackadaisical young lady, Juno. However, Mavis is a different beast altogether. Her drunkard and snide ways are just utterly unlikeable, and Young Adult is immensely brave for focusing on such a grating character. Yet even someone like Mavis must have a conscience, and hers comes in the form of Patton Oswalt. Oswalt, a US comedy stalwart for many years, is a delight in the role of Matt Freehauf, a former classmate of Mavis’ who is crippled following a severe assault back in high school. Mavis runs into Matt and they immediately click over a fondness for whiskey and a strange mutual fascination. He has a conscience, and she has a life beyond Mercury. As odd as it seems, Mavis and Matt compliment each other beautifully.

Theron has a blast as the super-bitch whilst keeping her sympathetic (if not likeable), whilst Oswalt gets laughs and maintains dignity without milking his character’s disability. As events unfold, Mavis’ behaviour gets more erratic and we start to fear she may actually have mental problems. Cody’s script is biting in its dialogue and sometimes cruel in its plotting, whilst Reitman’s camera never looks away. Audiences might though; for all the laughs (and there are many), Young Adult will mostly induce winces and agape mouths. Young Adult’s blacker-than-black style will turn some off, no question. Go with it, however, and Young Adult delivers laughs aplenty. If they are at Mavis’ expense, she’s got no-one to blame but herself.

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