Review: Young Adult
PLOT: Mavis Gary wants Buddy Slade. The two dated many years ago and both have moved on with their lives. She is now a semi-successful writer who can’t seem to find any real happiness. He is still back in their hometown, now happily married with a brand new baby. Once Mavis finds that he is has become a father, she makes plans to return to her hometown and take this loving husband away for herself.
Diablo Cody has created what is arguably one of the most fascinating characters of the year with Mavis Gary in YOUNG ADULT. Mavis, as wonderfully played by Charlize Theron, is conniving, miserable, self-loathing and pathetic. She is incapable of learning from her mistakes. After all, the entire plot of the film revolves around her trying to get her ex-boyfriend back. The old flame Buddy however is happily married and recently has become a father. Especially with this current “baby” information, Mavis is convinced the two will always be together. She thinks nothing of the family that she wants to rip to shreds. It is kind of refreshing to see a character this disturbed carrying a motion picture. If only her adventure didn’t feel so exceedingly bland.
It is hard to really attack YOUNG ADULT strictly because the lovely Theron is very convincing as the unlovely Mavis. If there is sympathy to be given to this miserable character, it is strictly because of her fantastic performance. Mavis sleepwalks through her life - usually waking up in a stupor, lying face down in bed with nothing to really live for. Even her career is empty as she is a ghost writer for a popular “young adult” series of books. Sure all those folks back where she grew up think she is a success, but she clearly doesn’t feel that way.
When she returns to her hometown to try and win back - married with child - Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) from his current situation, she always pushes things just a bit too far. This may be a comedy/drama, yet it borders on horror as you could easily see Mavis offing Buddy’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) with some sort of power drill. Thankfully, there is some humor that comes from Mavis’ relationship with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), somebody she would probably not have spoken to much back in the day. It is when Theron and Oswalt are together that the movie stands above the drawn out relations between Buddy and his wannabe amour. YOUNG ADULT would have been a much more interesting feature if the focus had been on these two oddly connected square pegs. The biggest treat here is the great Patton Oswalt, especially in regards to his chemistry with Theron. The two of them make for a very appealing couple. A few jokes are made about his character being beaten up because he was thought to be gay (the character is not), thankfully they take a slight dramatic approach with this. Like many of the guffaws presented here, there is a deadly serious side as he tells of the awful night that he was beat up and left to die. While there is most assuredly humor in tragedy, this Jason Reitman directed comedy is able to balance between in moments like this. Yet this is a tale that could have gone much darker than it does. Sentimentality even manages to sneak in every so often which really doesn’t ring true to the film overall. YOUNG ADULT feels like the black comedy that really wants to be liked by everybody.
It isn’t that Mavis doesn’t deserve any sympathy. It isn’t the fact that she is too dark of a character to focus on. This is simply a case of so what! We sit and wait as Mavis explains away to those around her that Buddy is meant to be with her. We even witness the uncomfortable moments she is close to him while his wife blindly trusts her hardly build much in the way of suspense. We sit and we wait for this woman who wants to break up a marriage to either come to her senses or succeed. However, aside from the terrific relationship between Oswalt and Theron, there is little else to wait for. Much like Mavis’ character, YOUNG ADULT is heading one way and has no interest in expanding into much else. It is simply a single minded, occasionally funny, yet in the end, a disappointingly dull exploration of not knowing when to quit.