daniel cohen reviews the new Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman collaboration …
Plot: Alcoholic burn out young adult writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) returns to her hometown to try and win back her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), now married, and with a newborn child.
Charlize Theron walks around with a constant hangover in the new Jason Reitman directed/Diablo Cody written film Young Adult. Her apartment is filled with Easy Mac like microwavable dishes and a Wii, pretty much my college dorm room, which I think is the point.
Theron plays this role to perfection, acting like an immature young twenty-something, when the character is really in her late 30s. Her delivery, her look, her actions, it’s a very calculated performance. It’s interesting just to watch the character walk around in a haze, but she also has plenty of great dialogue moments. There’s a scene where she goes on a date with this guy who talks about his travels around the world, and how it really enriched his life, and she is just like, ‘I don’t give a shit, whatever,’ and that was a funny moment that I really appreciated.
But Theron isn’t the only stand out here. Patton Oswalt stretches his wings as Matt Freehauf, another classmate of Theron’s character who was severely beaten up in high school, leaving him crippled. This film is a dramedy, and we’ve seen Oswalt do this before in the small film Big Fan. I can’t stand that film only because I detest the protagonist so much, but Oswalt was really good in it, and he’s even better in this. He’s got the trademark Oswalt comedy going on, but he’s a truly sympathetic character too. While he’s got his flaws, the scene that says it all is when an over zealous handicapped person goes up to him and tells him ‘We can accomplish anything! We can do it! We’re great!’ Oswalt’s character is just like, ‘Dude, leave me alone,’ and is perfectly satisfied with his life, and there’s something admirable to that as opposed to this really annoying guy who’s in your face. The relationship between his character and Theron’s is truly the heart of the film and what most people are going to latch onto as these seemingly unlikely people are in fact very similar.
As I mentioned before, this film is a dramedy, and while I tend to hate the dramedy, this one is probably more comedy until the last fifteen minutes or so, when it turns into drama. And I’m fine with that. The comedy is never laugh out loud, but it’s consistently funny, full of chuckles, and you get a sense of deeper issues throughout the film allowing you to buy the full on drama at the end. That’s how you do a dramedy. Keep it funny, but sprinkle in very subtle elements to a looming drama, and we’re off and running. The script by Diablo Cody, who is of course famous for writing Juno, sets up a perfect tone. It’s a well-paced film, even though it can get a little repetitive at times. There are too many times we see Mavis get drunk, wake up in a hangover, get another make-over, and then do the same thing all over again.
My biggest problem with the movie is they make Mavis too much of a heroic character. The film makes it clear she has her problems, but they make the small town people she re-connects with like Buddy (Patrick Wilson), her old boyfriend, and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), too much like villains at the end, and I really didn’t see them that way. They are certainly flawed in the sense that they aren’t as sympathetic towards her at the end as they should be, but at the same time, they make a strong effort and take time out of their busy lives to spend time with this character that they haven’t seen in many years.
The end message is also very muddled. It’s clear where Mavis is headed at the end, and that’s a satisfying conclusion. But going along with what I said before about some of these people being portrayed as villains, it sends this kind of ‘FU’ message to people who live in small towns that are satisfied with that life as Matt Freehauf’s sister (Collette Wolfe) makes this end speech. While certainly this character has a right to be pissed about what happened to her brother in this town, it was really labeling all of these people into the asshole category, and that just didn’t sit right with me.
While those elements bothered me slightly, I could still see where all the characters were coming from that led them into thinking this way, so it didn’t detract from the film that much. This is a consistently funny movie, very entertaining, and with some really strong performances from Oswalt and Theron, who will probably get some Oscar buzz. She gives one hell of a monologue at the end. As a side note though, there’s a lot of product placement in this movie such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell. It plays into the story a little bit, but seriously, calm down with all the fast food references.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)