Sunday, November 11, 2012

Young Adult

Directed by Jason Reitman.
Rated R, 94 minutes.
Charize Theron
Patton Oswalt
Patrick Wilson
Elizabeth Reaser
Jill Eikenberry
Richard Bekins
Collette Wolfe
Hettienne Park
J. K. Simmons

Mavis Gary (Theron) is the ghost writer of a once successful series of books aimed at teens, hence the movie’s title. Fresh out of a bad marriage, she suddenly decides to take a trip back to her hometown in hopes of reigniting an old flame. His name is Buddy (Wilson), her high school sweetheart. The problem? Not only is Buddy happily married, he’s just become a dad and is absolutely smitten over his family. Another hindrance is the small bit of fame she’s garnered as the prom queen who went off to the big city and did good. Lastly, it becomes clear rather quickly that Mavis is an alcoholic, or at the very least going through a bout of self-medicating with booze. The local yokels, most of whom admire but aren’t particularly fond of her, wonder aloud what she’s doing back home. Undeterred, she makes play for Buddy against the better advice of her newly found drinking pal Matt (Oswalt). He’s a former high school misfit whom she barely noticed was alive and has to have her memory jogged to remember him despite having the locker right next to his. He has his own set of complex issues.

Hopefully, you haven’t gotten the impression that Young Adult is a plucky romantic comedy of the sort Jennifer Aniston might star. This movie resides in a decidedly darker neighborhood. A couple of characters indeed have romance in their hearts, but it’s all misguided and unreciprocated. When there is eventually sex, it amounts to damaged people simultaneously taking pity on one another and consoling themselves. Beyond that, when the credits roll these people still have severe problems. I certainly would not categorize this as a date movie.

I will categorize YA as the character study of a delusional woman. And, as delusional people often are, she’s oblivious to her own insanity. Theron plays the role without a hint of self-awareness about the ridiculousness of the mission her character has assigned herself. Even when someone else tells her she’s completely out of line, she easily explains her point of view, as much to herself as the other person. In the face of common sense and decency she will not be swayed. Nothing short of getting her man will suffice, regardless of the consequences and/or collateral damage. Theron once again delivers a masterful performance.

Patton Oswalt takes a different path to excellence. His portrayal of Matt is made up entirely of self-awareness and pity. He has no delusions of grandeur and resigns himself to the idea that he will forever occupy the lowest runs of the social ladder. As a person who suffered a life-altering trauma because of the misperception of others, there is a thread of bitterness throughout his entire existence. The tricky part is he puts up just enough of a front to not be totally unapproachable. We even trust him even though his motives aren’t always clear. Is he befriending Mavis in hopes of sharing anything more than a few drinks with her? Or, is he just happy to have the most popular girl from his high school days hanging out with him?

The DVD cover of YA purports it to be some zany comedy that might easily star Tina Fey and/or Anna Faris. If that’s what you’re looking for you’ll be sorely disappointed. The ever-trusty Wikipedia page for the movie calls it a dark comedy. I’ll take it a step further. Any comedy within the confines of this picture is very dark, at best. It’s not quite as aggressively depressing as Melancholia, which also deals with emotionally damaged people along with our always imminent mortality. However, YA is no ray of sunshine. It dives into some of the more desolate corners of the human soul. It is a very good movie as long as you understand what you’re getting yourself into. There will be times when you will laugh. Just don’t go into it looking to yuck it up.

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