“Young Adult” is director Jason Reitman’s most mature comedy yet
It’s no coincidence that Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), the unpleasant protagonist of “Young Adult,” writes young adult novels for a living.
She’s as superficial and self-absorbed as one of the “psycho prom queen bitch(es)” in her Waverly Prep books.
A age 38, Mavis lives a miserable existence in Minneapolis, guzzling Diet Pepsi and forking down dog food in between “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” marathons.
Her romantic relationships are short-lived, her career shaky at best. Her only companion is an adorable Pomeranian which she, naturally, ignores.
When Mavis learns that her high school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), just had a baby with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), she resolves to rescue him from what she assumes is soul-suffocating suburban hell. “It’s like he’s a hostage!” she exclaims to a bored friend.
So Mavis packs up her Mini Cooper, pops in a mix tape and heads to her hometown, Mercury, Minn. Once there, she tracks down Buddy and sets about fanning that old flame.
“Here’s the deal: Buddy and I are meant to be together,” she tells former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) in a burst of romance novel-fueled delusion. “I’m here to get him back.” The way she sees it, that baby, that marital bliss, rightfully belongs to her.
There are only a couple of wrinkles in Mavis’ plan.
One is Buddy, who seems genuinely happy living the American dream in the Minnesota backwoods. (The fact, regrettably, fails to register with Mavis.)
The other is Matt, the hapless nerd who’s held a torch for Mavis ever since they shared side-by-side lockers in high school. The victim of a horrendous (and misguided) hate crime that left him physically and emotionally traumatized, Matt remains trapped in his childhood home, spending his spare time building action figures and brewing moonshine.
The two become drinking buddies, Mavis pouring out her problems while a horror-struck Matt urges her to consider another path. Mavis may be great at channeling the emotions of lovestruck teenagers, he observes, but she doesn’t “know (bleep) about being an adult.”
An uneasy exploration of adulthood in an increasingly infantile age, “Young Adult” is director Jason Reitman’s most prickly comedy yet. The movie benefits from a razor-sharp screenplay by “Juno” collaborator Diablo Cody, whose wittier-than-thou dialogue sounds much more natural coming out of the mouth of a self-centered 30-something than a 16-year-old girl.
Charlize Theron is fearless as Mavis, a misguided malcontent whose bad behavior makes you forget how pathetic she really is. She’s not a monster, necessarily, just an misanthrope of epic proportions. (“Young Adult” makes smart use of Theron’s astounding beauty, contrasting her movie star looks with a slovenly lifestyle and an ugly attitude.)
Patton Oswalt follows his superb starring role in “Big Fan” with another strong performance here. His dry wit and deadpan line readings suit the material perfectly.
As for Wilson, who faced a similar situation in “Little Children,” he’s adorable, of course. But not quite as cute as that Pomeranian.
Unlike “Juno,” “Young Adult” probably won’t become a sleeper hit. It’s too uncomfortable, too challenging. Yet, for all its uneasiness, “Young Adult” has something that earlier movie lacked — maturity.
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