Sunday, April 22, 2012

Young Adult

movie review: in the picture

Young Adult ***

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Hettienne Park, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, and J. K. Simmons
Director: Jason Reitman
Tagline: Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.

Meet Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a narcissistic 30-something ghost-writer of the Waverly Prep young adult book series. She may have escaped small town mediocrity by moving to the big city, but her life isn’t going quite as well as she would’ve hoped; she drinks too much, her marriage has fallen apart, her series is being cancelled, and she is struggling with a deadline to finish her latest novel. So when an unexpected email about the birth of her ex-boyfriend Buddy’s (Patrick Wilson) daughter makes its way to her inbox, it hits a nerve and sets the action rolling.

“Can you imagine still living in Mercury” she asks a friend, “trapped with a wife and a kid and some crappy job? It’s like...it’s like he’s a hostage,” she declares about Buddy, and thereby sets off on a self-assigned mission to rescue him. He may be happily married and content with his life, but that is clearly irrelevant. So back she goes to her hometown, and thus begins her quest to win back her high school sweetheart.

To say that Mavis has issues would be an understatement, and on hand to tell her just that is former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), a geek who became partially disabled after being beaten by jocks in high school. She barely remembers who he is when she runs into him after arriving in town, but he eventually becomes her unlikely confidant, and their odd relationship grows as the movie progresses.

As its oddball characters cross orbits, Young Adult spins an awkwardly riveting web. The film is an exploration of a character with no redemptive qualities, and while Mavis might be a wreck, she is still strangely mesmerising. A portrait of what happens to the beauty queens who graduated high school but her attitude never did, Mavis is still clinging on to the past, has a slew of bad habits, and her lack of self-awareness is appalling, but her persona makes for an interesting case study.

Young Adult reunites screenwriter Diablo Cody (Brook Busey) and director Jason Reitman, the duo that paired up to create the critically acclaimed Juno. Reitman has established himself with films such as Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air, and with projects like Juno and United States of Tara, Cody has displayed her knack for creating unusual characters and enveloping them in humour. In this case, however, the premise might have been set up as a dark comedy, but the film’s comedic undertones are buried under a layer of awkwardness. You might find yourself questioning the plausibility of some of the characters’ motivations, and the lack of redemption for the protagonist might exhaust your supply of patience. But even if that happens, what will keep you from giving up on the film is the performance of its lead actors. Both Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are the movie’s biggest assets; their performances are right on the mark, and they bring their broken and damaged characters to life with expert precision.

Overall, Young Adult isn’t as immediate as the project its filmmakers are known for. It is an understated, cynical piece that explores the life of an unlikable character and its ideas take some time to process, but it is helped immensely by the performances of its cast, especially Charlize Theron who keeps you watching as the craziness explodes and the fa├žade of the perfect life comes undone.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 22nd April, 2012

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