Saturday, January 7, 2012

Young Adult

By s. Saturday, January 7, 2012 , , , , , , ,
97/100, (94 min, 2011)
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".
For those people and horrifyingly so - most of the society - shooting babies out of you like ping pong balls and tying yourself to one man is the life goal and achievement. They do not care what they are, what became of them. Career? Education? What for? At least that's not one delusion Mavis is living in, but ironically the one she thinks she wants to live in. Instead of adjusting her goals and hopes to her life at the moment and focusing to do something good and useful with what she has, and she has plenty - looks, intellect, talent and good health - she still has dreams of teenager. Finding Prince Charming even if in reality the Prince Charming Buddy is such a weak pussy, who can't stand to his wife and can't resist old flame.

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 movie gives us hints to her condition - but Mavis tragedy is that she doesn't let anyone too close, so nobody sees it. She pulls her hair as compulsion, she only eats junk food, she drinks alcohol constantly. So many things went wrong for her - what critics and audience are so quick to call "a monster" is a women scarred by other people and poisoned by their words - everything was going well for her because of her looks in high school, so she was popular, so she became Prom Queen and then everyone expected her to have husband and babies. And then one thing goes wrong and it all falls apart as the house of cards. Yes, she is a writer of successful series - only she is a ghost writer and her name is not even on the cover. Yes, she is beautiful, but she is getting older and older with each day of her monotonous, repetitive activities. And yes, she can get any guy she wants, but so what? She doesn't love any of them.

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.
The only person who gives Mavis some normal comfort and help is Matt - high school geek who was mistakenly took as a gay and horribly attacked, which left him crippled for life. Matt talks to Mavis, something he could have never done 20 years ago and he tells her the truth. In a way they are both equally tragic - Matt has strong personality, but he is a cripple. Mavis is beautiful, but her personality was weakened by everyone constantly telling her how amazing she is.Patton Oswalt's performance is wonderful - he is the complete opposite of Theron, but their two acting styles - him being very subtle, her being aggressive - compliment each other brilliantly.

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.
The real reason she came back to town was to turn the clock back until everything turned bad for her. But she didn't think that instead of bringing back good memories, all the wrong things will come back as well - the inevitable meltdown turns the whole movie around - if anyone thought it was funny, clearly missed the point of the film. In one scene, amazingly acted out by Theron, we learn the reason why Mavis is the way she is. And how horribly damaged she is underneath her exterior. The lack of social skills, tact, the failure of her marriage - all happened because of something she couldn't prevented and abruptly shown her that the dream can in fact collapse, at any moment.

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.


  1. I think the film is a lot better than people want to give it credit for. Particularly as I see it as a growth for Diablo Cody as a writer. After the lackluster Jennifer's Body which I thought was nothing more than a bloated rip-off of Ginger Snaps with idiotic language. I was glad Cody restrained for that and went for a character study approach to the story. It's in my top 25 of 2011 so far as I think people should see it more.

    Notably for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt as they really do some of their best work. Excellent review by the way.

  2. Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review Sati.

  3. @thevoid: thank you! Yes, it's noticebly better than other scripts by Cody - it's still distinctive and you see her style, but it's much more mature and well-thought

    @Dan O.: thank you! I hope they both get awards for their work.

  4. Love your take on Young Adult, and you definitely make some strong points on the lonely aspect of her character, which is evident even if I didn't write about it in my own review that much!

    Great review btw, as usual!

    (P.S - thanks for including me in your blogs I love section!!)

    1. Thanks! I'm actually going to write an analysis of the movie sometime this week, because I noticed more things upon second viewing. You're welcome - you have such a unique movie blog I couldn't not include it :)