You’re probably as well-acquainted with the Diablo Cody backlash as you are with the reason for her success. With many cinema-goers (not us, we’d like to point out) unconvinced by Juno and looking for proof of her lack of talent, her screenplay for the misfiring Jennifer’s Body was justifiably ripped to shreds. But after a couple of series of the rapidly-improving but sadly cancelled The United States of Tara, Cody has reteamed with her Juno director Jason Reitman for this scabrous bit of black comedy.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) was the princess of her high school. Now she’s a moderately successful ghost-writer of a young adult series of novels, alone and an alcoholic. When she gets an email with a photo of her high-school beau Buddy Slade’s (Patrick Wilson) new baby, she decides that she needs to rescue him from his small town hell and remind him that they were meant to be together.
Young Adult is a terrifically sharp, unapologetically dark comedy with a fascinating lead character in Mavis Gary and a fantastic performance from Theron. Only ever hungover and clutching a bottle of Diet Coke or plastered in make-up and drunk, Mavis is a bitter, lonely woman who makes a living writing about the popular girl in high school that she used to be but she is revolted by her home town and the vast majority of the people still living there. Only Buddy is worth saving. But somehow she ends up spending a great deal of time with fellow heavy-drinker Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a chubby guy who she never looked twice at who is now on crutches after suffering a misplaced hate crime in high-school.
One of the reasons why Juno was so effective is because there was a huge beating heart beneath the smart-aleck dialogue and wisecracking-beyond-her-years lead. In Young Adult, the film’s heart is placed out of Mavis’s reach. Warm, loving families exist in this world (Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) are an example) but that isn’t Cody or Reitman’s primary interest. At one point Mavis goes to see her parents and mentions that she thinks she might be an alcoholic. Her parents laugh and the subject isn’t brought up again. Even the genial Matt is literally scarred by high-school, drinks heavily, and lives with his sister.
But while Mavis is an identifiably human character and never a monster, she is delusional, vindictive, and utterly sure of herself. She knows exactly what she’s doing. The wife and baby are a problem, sure, but nothing that she can’t deal with. Despite all of Matt’s well-intentioned warnings, she’s completely convinced that things will work out between her and Buddy.
It may be a little bitter for some but for those who like their character comedy pitch black, Young Adult is a triumphant return to form for Cody and yet another winner for Jason Reitman. Theron had been robbed of an Oscar nomination.
A brilliant performance from Theron and an excellent script from Cody. Young Adult is a must-see.