YOUNG ADULT (Dir. Jason Reitman, 2011)
With Mavis Gary, a divorced writer of young adult fiction, Charlize Theron has her juiciest role since…well, MONSTER. It’s a doozy of a pathetic character that spends most of the movie looking like she’s gone to seed slouching as she shuffles around in sweat pants, Hello Kitty t-shirt, and a hoodie, but when she dolls herself up, a process we see in excruciating detail, she can still bring it as a head-turning beauty.
Theron only brings it in hopes of stealing back her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who is happily married with a new baby. When she hears about the newborn, Theron travels back to her small Minnesotan hometown to relive her teenage glory years, and put her misguided plan in motion.
YOUNG ADULT re-unites the duo behind 2007’s sleeper hit JUNO, director Jason Reitman and Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, but thankfully this time there’s less snark and more edge. This is largely due to Theron’s fearless portrayal of a highly unlikable embarrassingly immature woman, and the odd connection she makes to Patton Oswalt, as one of her former class-mates, who has to walk with a crutch because during his not-so-glory high school years, he was beaten severely – a victim of a mistaken hate-crime.
Oswalt is the voice of reason, telling Theron she’s crazy for trying to rekindle a long gone romance, but she, of course doesn’t listen. Once again playing a grinning dolt, Wilson is oblivious to Theron’s motives; in Elizabeth Reaser he has a good wife (who’s coincidentally on the show The Good Wife), with plenty of stability, so why would he want to get tangled up in his ex’s messy world?
So Theron crashes face down drunk on her hotel bed night after night, and we wonder if this cringe-inducing selfish nut will ever be redeemable. While we contemplate that, Reitman includes shots of the generic landscape of strip malls, chain restaurants, and cheap hotels, that are attempts at making a statement about the homogenization of America (Wilson boasts about a Chipotle opening in town as if it’s big news), but they still don’t serve as much more than backdrop to wallowing in Theron and Oswalt’s desperate existences.
It’s a standout performance for Oswalt, who tops his intensity in 2009’s BIG FAN simply by being himself – a self aware geek with a cutting remark for every occasion.
That said, there really aren’t that many satisfying laughs in YOUNG ADULT, and the predictability of the storyline is annoying, but spending time with these risky characters is appealing during this Christmas season clogged full of overblown fantasies.
Even during her most despicable moments I was still rooting for Theron, who embodies the part so completely you will actually feel sorry for her, but not to succeed at winning back Wilson, but to move on. Obviously the woman isn’t familiar with Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again”, but after this disastrous trip she should definitely take it to heart.