With Young Adult we see the much-anticipated reunion of director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, whose 2007 smash hit Juno has audiences pining for their latest collaboration. Fully aware of this wide anticipation, Reitman and Cody turn Juno on its head as they produce a relentless and darkly uncomfortable comedy, featuring an extremely unlikely heroine in Charlize Theron as Mavis, a 30-something former high school beauty queen battling alcohol and bitter feelings. Yet through this experience, both Reitman and Cody reestablish their vast skill and eye for storytelling, as Charlize Theron makes her case as one of the cream of acting crop.
Young Adult is anything but glamourous, as it follows Mavis, a semi-successful young adult author, as she sets out on a disillusioned journey to win back her high school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), after discovering he and his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), have given birth to a baby girl. Mavis is deeply miserable, living alone in Minneapolis attempting to write the final novel in her once-successful book series. She masks her misery with the company of her small dog, bourbon, and endlessly watching the bad reality TV. Convinced of her vast superiority to the life and people she left in Mercury, Minnesota, Mavis is disillusioned to think she can waltz into town and reclaim the life she thinks she deserves and should be hers.
Mavis checks into a hotel in Mercury, but everything seems to stay the same. An unlikely friendship is sparked when Mavis bumps into an old acquaintance, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) at a local dive. While Mavis’ high school experience was a high time in her life, Matt’s experience couldn’t have been more different. The victim of a vicious hate crime during high school, Matt’s life was forever changed, as the physical and emotional ramifications of the attack are still evident, and an unlikely bond is formed between this severely damaged duo. Although they were locker partners throughout high school, they both had nothing in common and never even spoke. Yet now they both share similar emotional trauma, but deal with it differently. While they could both be looked at as very similar, Mavis has a pretty exterior with a fairly ugly interior. The opposite could be said of Matt, who deals daily with his issues and ailments with a pretty positive attitude.
So despite the cautioning and common sense from Matt, Mavis sets out to win back Buddy at any cost. As can probably be deduced from this, Young Adult is at times a highly uncomfortable experience, as we’re thrust right into the action as we witness Mavis become increasingly unhinged in the realization of her own unhappiness and issues, as it boils down to the fact Mavis just isn’t a very kind person. Diablo Cody has penned a very unlikely, but honest film, yet it is the performances by Theron and Oswalt that stand out in this film, as Jason Reitman proves yet again his ability to get magnificent and truly honest performances from his cast. In fact, Cody’s screenplay falters in an unexpected way, while the story and writing excel, there simply doesn’t feel like enough meat to the story. Thankfully, the underlying themes, emotions, and performances add weight to an otherwise stripped-down film.
This film is quite plainly a very honest and true examination of a truly damaged soul, complete with a magnificent lead performance from Charlize Theron, and an earnest, subtly masterful performance from Patton Oswalt. With Young Adult, Jason Reitman establishes his mastery and eye for deeply personal and honest films.
Rated: R (for language and some sexual content. )
Young Adult opens in limited release December 9; it opens nationwide December 16.