If you get your kicks from laughing at the expense of others, Young Adult is a romp you won’t want to miss! As the story goes, Mavis Gary is a ghostwriter of a teen book series who spends her days recovering from the previous night’s bad decisions whilst swilling Diet Coke and watching Keeping Up With the Khardashians. By all accounts, she has done well for herself in Minneapolis, but something is missing…
She decides that something is her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (the ever-gorgeous Patrick Wilson), who is now happily married with a baby girl. She returns to her small town on a whim to claim what she believes is rightfully hers.
One might expect such a story from writer Diablo Cody (Juno), who writes with great panache about people who get themselves into sticky situations, or from director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), who artistically helms films about people who’ve lost themselves in the whirl of their lives. But the most pleasant surprise is Charlize Theron, who plays the obliviously twisted, smart yet developmentally challenged Mavis with such an unapologetic sincerity that the audience has no choice but to root for her, however despicable she can be.
The writing is fun and interesting, though it induces many more winces and facepalms than laugh-out-loud moments, and Theron’s character is one that most viewers will identify with on some level, even as she starts to become what most twenty and thirty-somethings fear most. The cinematography helps tell the story, providing well-timed extreme close-ups of the tiny details, the ugly truths one might overlook when staring at a face as gorgeous as Theron’s. But Mavis’ good looks are the source of the movie’s greatest ironies. We see her beauty through her own eyes as both a boon and as a mental handicap, and through the eyes of other characters as a reason to ignore a person’s problems that would otherwise be obvious.
The only character who seems to see through to the real Mavis is Matt (played with heart by Patton Oswalt), the “hate crime guy” who was beaten up by popular bullies in high school and is now crippled from the incident. Matt’s external flaws stunted his growth in the same way that Mavis’ beauty stunted her, and when the two come together, all they can do to remedy the situation is drink.
When Mavis’ delusions finally collide with reality, viewers get a climactic payoff followed by a surprising denouement. Some will be disappointed by the strange brand of black humor and nontraditional story arc, but others will see the merit in a story with so much truth to it—a story that will keep you talking for hours afterward.