By Scott Martin
Young Adult, USA, 2011
Directed by Jason Reitman
Meet Mavis Gary. Peculiar name, sure, but consider the woman: she’s an alcoholic, forever single, 40-year-old former beauty queen for Minnesota (Mercury, to be exact). Fitting that someone so alienating comes from a place named after a planet. It’s worth noting that Young Adult doesn’t follow any sort of conventional formula (even if that’s becoming a bit conventional these days). Diablo Cody, who won a well-deserved Oscar for writing Juno, and Jason Reitman, who received a well-deserved nomination for directing it, team up again to bring us this divisive film. That’s probably the best way of putting it. It seems to be something you either fall in love with or hate from the moment it starts. I’m happy to say that I fell in love with it, and its characters. Even Mavis.
Mavis (Charlize Theron) lives alone in Minneapolis, and makes her living as a ghost writer for a popular teen book series. Excuse me, “young adult” book series. She’s the name on the copyright page that nobody reads, but it’s enough of a living to keep her on a steady diet of booze (single malt, neat, keep ‘em comin’), to keep her decent-sized apartment (a complete mess), and give her an internet connection, which is actually important to the story. Not because Mavis has a serious case of writer’s block, and probably just checks her Facebook compulsively throughout her day, but because she receives a life changing email from her ex-high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Parick Wilson). He’s had a baby with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), and he wanted to fill everyone in on the little bundle of joy’s existence. Mavis snaps. How could this be possible? She’s a beauty queen, dammit, and she wants her ex-boyfriend back, so she hops in her car, and makes the trip to her hometown to attend the baby shower and win Buddy back. This would be romantic, if Buddy were actually unhappy, but, of course, he loves his wife and he just had a baby. So, it’s not romantic. It’s delusional, and a bit frightening. Everyone has an idea of who Mavis is, however. Perhaps to the people back home, she lives a celebrity’s life, that of a wonder-woman Truman Capote, hitting up underground parties and shooting the scotch and the shit with George Clooneys and Angelina Jolies. That is, of course, until she unwraps herself before her old classmates, and no one has to guess anymore.
When Mavis gets home, she runs into the man who will probably shape her life in the greatest way, though she might not ever see it. He’s Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), and his locker used to be right next to hers. She had a mirror in it that she checked constantly, like most homecoming queens might. She doesn’t remember him, until something clicks and suddenly he’s “the hate crime guy”. Matt was beaten with sports equipment in high school for being gay. Never mind the fact that he’s not actually gay, it was just one of those unfortunate things, and that seems to be enough for him. He’s lived with it, and will continue to – he has a crutch to lean on while he walks, and in a stroke of screenwriting genius, his crutch is a metaphor for everything Mavis leans on, and will come to lean on. Cody, inhabiting Mavis for a moment in that scene, lives free of tact, and because of that, her screenplay is one of the best of the year.
It shouldn’t be a shock to the viewer that things don’t go exactly as planned when Mavis shows up to win Buddy back from his wife. That’s why Matt’s there as a character, and that’s why Mavis is the way she is. Her misguided efforts are very scary to everyone but her and Matt, who just sort of watches the show, hoping that Mavis will eventually realize what she’s doing. He’s Mavis’ Virgil while she walks through the different levels of her own personal hell, and his performance is further proof of his skill as an actor. Young Adult is a film that deals with the ideas of paralyzing immaturity, alcoholism, and delusions of grandeur, in the same way that someone like Mavis might: by diving head first into it with no intent of turning back until her point is made, either by catastrophe or sheer dumb luck.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com