Just when you think your husbands are safe, along comes Charlize Theron. Blond, sexy, hot and slutty. Obsessive, mentally deranged, utterly depressed and drunk. The popular girl in high school. A successful author. A crazy bitch that only got crazier a divorce and a few bourbon bottles later. It's Young Adult, the funny and superbly acted new drama-comedy from Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, and four-time Oscar nominee Jason Reitman, who directed Juno and Up in the Air.
In Young Adult, recently divorced and drunk Mavis Gary (a name a modern woman would only have in the movies) receives an announcement that her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth have just had a baby. It suddenly dawns on her that the solution to her unhappiness is to return to her horrific hometown to win Buddy back. After all, she'd be a hero. You know, saving Buddy from his loving, happy marriage.
Young Adult is Diablo Cody's best-written movie since Juno, which means it's better than Jennifer's Body and not quite as good as Juno.In many ways it's like Juno, if Juno were a self-obsessed nut job who was fixated on an uninterested Paulie Bleeker who had moved on 15 years earlier. It's funny like Juno, but darker and more disturbing in a comically sad kind of way.
Comically sad describes Charlize Theron's character pretty well, too. Mavis is a disturbed human being, a woman who has lost sense of reality, though to describe her as insane would be inaccurate. She's believable, as are her actions, even though she is ludicrously out of touch with what's going on around her. She has a single if multilayered goal, to be loved, to be liked, to be popular, to win Buddy back. Mavis is a sad character who devolves as time goes on, her interactions with most other people becoming increasingly awkward and frustratingly destructive.
Despite all this, Theron allows Mavis to be a relatable, even likable protagonist, even if there isn't anything likable about her. The actress paints her character as blindly confident, but also as fragile and deeply flawed, permitting the audience to see potential in her if only she were to look inwards herself. Theron gives her best performance since her Oscar-winning turn in 2003's Monster, challenging the audience to question what defines mental illness, while making them laugh in the process.
And ultimately, the movie's greatest strength is the humor. Though it deals with serious issues, Young Adult is consistently funny. Often spot-on funny. Some will argue that the movie is too simple, that its plot is surprisingly, even disappointingly, straightforward. But when all is said and done, the movie is funny in a snarky, biting, awkwardly painful way. Cody and Reitman have made their short but decorated careers on their ability to be funny and dramatic simultaneously; Young Adult continues the trend.
The humor carries the movie, but Young Adult is more than just a comedy. Its story is simple, maybe to a fault, but its characters are complex and intriguing. Nothing speaks to this more than two defining scenes, one featuring the terrific Patton Oswalt, the other the final scene of the movie. Oswalt, best known for supporting gigs in comedies, delivers a superb performance, highlighted by a scene in the woods where he unloads on Mavis with surprisingly intense vigor. The ending, featuring a discussion between Theron and Collette Wolfe, is touching and strangely sad, and doesn't go in the direction one would think. It's refreshingly unique, a strong send-off.
Young Adult is superbly acted, well written and sharply funny. Charlize Theron is terrific. The movie's only weakness is that it doesn't try to be more than it is, but it is a very good movie nonetheless.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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