Plot: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids.
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Stars: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt
The Defense of Mavis Gary
"Young Adult" is an amazing movie - although advertised as a comedy, it is profound and moving character study. I enjoy Reitman's films and I like Diablo Cody's writing, however none of their films every hit me that hard and stunned me - in "Young Adult" both the script and Charlize Theron's fearless and flawless performance are just pure gold.
When I read opinions about the movie it struck me how many people call Theron's character monster. The only thing more shallow than some of Mavis's actions in the film is calling her that. We see a deeply hurt, damaged woman, who desperately needs help and worst of all - she didn't realize it. How can anyone can call person like that a monster? I wanted to hate her before seeing the film - we all know these Prom Queen types, who could get any guy they wanted in high school, had best birthday parties etc. I thought how fun it would be to see a movie where a person like that is a complete mess. But it wasn't fun - instead of hating Mavis, I felt sympathy for her.
I had very strong reaction to the movie - as someone who doesn't see getting married and having kids as a life goal I actually pitied the people in Mavis's hometown, which she visits in order to win back her old boyfriend - whom is now married and recently has became a father. In one scene the people from the town look at Mavis with pity - the worst and most embarrassing - for them - kind of pity. They don't pity her, because they care as a normal human being should, they pity her because they feel superior to her, because they have their "loved ones" and their "families". In other words they are ordinary and soon they will be gone and no one will remember them. Who are they to pity that woman who had a major tragedy in her life? I was appalled. Instead of crying, Mavis should have told them to just fuck off for good.
And as for Beth, the wife of Mavis's old boyfriend - whom Forbes, whilst calling this movie "the most moral movie of the year" paints out to be so good - who on Earth sends e-mail like that to another woman, when they obviously know what happened to her in the past? And who invites her to child's naming ceremony? That's not kindness - that's cruelty and the desire to show Mavis that Beth "won".
The film plays things incredibly smart - first we see Mavis as a shallow woman, who lives life that is far from what we usually see in movies where one character is glamorous - in romantic comedies or plain comedies these woman always have neat apartments, carefully prepared breakfasts and they wake up looking gorgeous. When Mavis wakes up she has a hangover, she drinks Cola straight from the bottle for a breakfast and her place is a total mess. It is clear, from the first moments that something is very wrong with her.
The only time Mavis was happy was back in high school - she was immature and it was acceptable for her to behave like she did, because she was young. So she is desperately trying to press "rewind" button instead of "repeat" - she goes back to her hometown, wants to take her old flame with her and win him back - proving to herself - and mostly to others, because her disposable joy will come from them losing the fight - that she can be the best again. The movie's tagline "Everybody grows old, not everybody grows up" is actually quite insensitive - Mavis did grow up, but she is a disturbed woman - she actually pleads for help few times in the movie. "I am crazy" she says at one point. "I think I'm an alcoholic" she says to her parents at another. And both statements are dismissed as a joke.
There is a lot of controversy regarding the ending of the movie. Some say Mavis didn't change. But here is the thing - she owns little Pomeranian, whom she sporadically hugs throughout the film. At the end, he was left for a day or longer and we see shame on Mavis's face, for the first time. She is not distressed at that point of the movie - after she had conversation with Matt's sister she is back to being her old self. But is she? First there is shame, then there is apology. Then she hugs her dog and cries, then she plays with it. Yes, it's a dog not a person. But for the first time in the movie, we see her actually caring about the consequences of her actions.
Theron is on fire here - it's her second best performance, but I don't think she - or maybe even majority of actresses out there - can beat her performance in "Monster". There is one scene in the movie, in the club during Buddy's wife performance when Mavis has a moment of lucidity - Theron plays the scene just with her eyes conveying a variety of emotions. It was simply exquisite to watch.
"Young Adult" is a brilliant film - hiding deep insight underneath the mask of quirky comedy. Mavis is shown taking off her mask, step by step, and when it's gone all we see is the shell of a woman who desperately and instinctively stays the same, hiding her damaged mind from others.