Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, J.K. Simmons (Narrator)
Audio Commentary; "Making of" Featurette; "Deconstructing a Scene"; Q&A w/Janet Maslin; 7 Deleted Scenes
If you require a warm and fuzzy ending to your comedies, then stay as far away as possible from Young Adult, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody's latest pairing after the success of Juno.
Young Adult isn't so much a pitch black comedy as it is simply a brutally honest, unrelentingly authentic one. It's not exactly uncommon for an independent or smaller studio to release a film as dark and dastardly as Young Adult, but it's practically unheard of for a studio the size of Paramount Pictures to touch material this bold and ballsy that doesn't exactly scream out mega box-office. Perhaps they're depending upon America's familiarity with Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) and Cody (Juno, United States of Tara) but, whatever their reason, it'll be interesting to see how American moviegoers respond.
Young Adult centers around Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron, Monster), that bitch you hated in high school who would never acknowledge your existence even when you were looking at her dead square in the eyes. Mavis was the blonde cheerleader type, the type who you just knew would end up leaving town and becoming successful in some other town bigger and better.
Mavis did. Kind of.
Mavis left the small town of Mercury, Minnesota and headed to the big city or, in this case, Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, Mavis got herself married, became a successful writer and lived in one of those high-rise condos that most people in small towns either think of as the pinnacle of success or just too hoity-toity.
The truth is, though, that Mavis's life isn't all wine and roses. Well, actually, it's a heck of a lot of wine and whiskey and various other alcoholic beverages. Mavis DID move to the big city, but her condo's actually a pit and she's basically the ghost writer for a series of young adult fiction that has apparently run its course.
Oh, and the marriage ended quickly. Very quickly.
Right at the time her big city life is bottoming out, Mavis gets wind of an upcoming ceremony celebrating the birth of her ex-beau's brand new baby.
You guessed it. Mavis is off to Mercury.
While the basic set-up is familiar, Young Adult is all about the journey. With Juno and Up in the Air, Reitman may have been bold and a little ballsy with his material but, in the end, he softened the impact with warm and fuzzy moments and resolutions that, while not exactly hopeful, had enough lighter moments to make both films feel a tad less dark. With Young Adult, one gets the sense that Reitman has been allowed to make the film that he wants. While the result isn't nearly as market friendly as Juno, it's far more honest and satisfying.
Mavis will remind you of that classmate you secretly envied in high school whom you meet at the 20-year reunion and go "Damn, maybe my life isn't so f***ed up after all." High school was as good as it ever got for Mavis, so when her illusion of success disappears she attempts to crawl back inside the womb of Mercury, Minnesota and, with simultaneously frightening and sad results, attempts to rekindle the spark with her high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who never left the town and is happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, Twilight films).
While she comes back for Buddy, it's in Matt (Patton Oswalt) that Mavis finds a kindred spirit. Matt was THAT guy in high school that Mavis completely ignored, despite their lockers being right next to one another throughout high school. While Mavis constantly seems to border on psycho, Matt is a hilarious combination of a pessimistic, 'er realistic, nice guy who for some godawful reason stuck around Mercury despite having experienced a brutal beating in high school birthed out of rumors that he was gay. It's the relationship between Mavis and Matt that gives Young Adult much of its depth, not so much emotionally but in terms of pure substance.
The real revelation of Young Adult, other than the fact that Charlize Theron is far better at comedy than most of us would have expected, is the downright remarkable performance of Patton Oswalt as the wounded, nerdish yet impossible to not like Matt. Oswalt's Matt is my kind of gimp, the kind of gimp who lives the best he can from day to day with a jaded cynicism borne out of a life that has, for the most part, really sucked. Matt can't stand "poster child" gimps, and he's the kind of guy who you can't help but think would have lived a better life if he hadn't gotten so royally screwed in high school. Oswalt is pitch perfect as Matt, embodying him with self-deprecating humor, glimpses of heart, ample amounts of weariness and so much more. It would be a grave injustice if Oswalt isn't recognized with an Oscar nomination for his performance here.
It may sound like I've told you way too much about what to expect from Young Adult, but rest assured I've told you almost nothing about the way that writer Diablo Cody fleshes out the characters and paints them in ways that are both comical and remarkably realistic. Reitman and Cody are clearly able to work within the same vibe and, as well, kudos must be given to Reitman for being able to lasso his ensemble cast into riding that same vibe throughout the film. In addition to Oswalt's award-worthy performance, Theron gives a relentless and brave performance as Mavis by refusing to turn her into a sympathetic character.
She starts out bitch. She stays a bitch. BUT, she's also remarkably human within all that bitchiness. It's a challenging balance, and Theron nails it. While I'll confess to being a bit baffled why Patrick Wilson continues to be cast in the "unattainable object of affection" role in film after film, he's convincing here as a small town guy who is, gasp!, happy as a small town guy. Wilson's Buddy is a genuinely nice guy who has moved on with his life in ways that Mavis simply can't imagine. In what could have easily been a one-note role, Elizabeth Reaser provides the perfect contrast to Mavis as Buddy's wife. Collette Wolfe, who was so terrific in the equally dark and maybe even darker Observe and Report, is spot-on as Matt's sister, a young woman who is living so vicariously through Mavis's illusion of success that she can't possibly see the truth.
There's virtually no chance that Young Adult will carve out nearly the niche' in the market as did Juno or Up in the AIr, and it should be noted quite clearly that fans of those films won't necessarily embrace this film - Young Adult may have glimpses of those films, but it's a beast all its own. However, for those able to embrace intelligent, honest and incredibly well acted dark comedy, Young Adult is yet another glimpse at the infinite talents known as Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody and, as well, one of 2011's hidden gems.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic