One of the best things you can say about Jason Reitman is that he knows exactly how to make an easy movie. In his relatively short career, he has made two movies that I could watch every day if I had to (Thank You for Smoking and Juno), and one that I could not, but could at least watch once a week (Up in the Air, and it’s only a once-a-week film because it’s so damn sad.) There’s something effortless about how he writes characters, which makes for movies that you could watch without blinking if they were twice as long. They’re movies you wish you could live in.
Young Adult is decided not a movie that you could watch every day, or even many times in your life. Without giving too much away, over the course of the movie, Charlize Theron says and does more than a few incredibly uncomfortable things, the least of which being the act of ruining the baby shower of her high school sweetheart’s wife, and verbally assaulting Patton Oswalt. There is something ugly inside of Theron, and for some reason, directors just seem to love pulling it out of her.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, a divorced and incredibly lost YA (“that’s industry speak for ‘young adult,'”*) writer who, upon receiving an email about the new birth of the first child of her long-lost high school sweetheart Buddy (executed wonderfully by Patrick Wilson). She decides to, in the midst of (not) writing, leave Minneapolis and head back to her home town to try and win him back. Along the way, she drinks heavily, abandons her dog, and pals around with former classmate Matt Freehauf (Oswalt, who here does not act as much as he says Oswaltian things – do not read this as a complaint). She makes everyone around her uncomfortable with her brash (read: emotionally stunted) behavior, and alienates anyone and everyone who wants to help her.
It’s not a surprise that the title of the film has a double meaning: while Mavis may be a YA writer, she herself is a 38-year-old who is still trapped in the role she filled when she was twenty-plus years younger, much to the disdain of the people who knew her then, and have learned to try and avoid knowing her now. To say that Gary is emotionally stunted is more than a small understatement, considering how she treats everyone, and every situation, throughout.
It feels hard to focus on anyone else in the film but Theron, but I would feel like this review would be incomplete if I didn’t spend a moment talking about Patton Oswalt. It’s hard to consider his turn here as acting, as he essentially plays himself, but with a crutch, but here he shines brighter than almost anyone. He manages to bring a dose of realism and humanity into every scheme Mavis hatches, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for every “real” moment that she has. It would also be insulting if I ignored the incredible writing prowess of screenwriter Diablo Cody, who dazzles once again in making people who feel real, even though they feel like people you would never meet, or want to meet. It seems that Cody is at her best when writing teenagers, and it just so happens that this made her a perfect for Young Adult in a way. She managed to, because of this, write characters that felt authentic in their immaturity; at any given point, it feels like the people you’re watching still think they’re in in high school, but nobody has told them that they’ve aged.
In the end, it’s clear that Mavis is not a terrible person. She is a person who finds herself frozen in time, longing to get back to that time. The same could be said of everyone in the film – they’re all still young adults in their own way, and they really can’t be blamed for being so awkward and uncomfortable all the time. It makes Young Adult a movie completely worth watching, even if I may never watch it again.
*hey, that’s the name of the picture!