December 16th, 2011 in Reviews by 2 Comments

Watching Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman is like looking at a talking Salvadore Dali painting for 94 minutes (minus the credits). You can see the art and the brilliance but it leaves you too disturbed to truly enjoy it.

It looks like Cody went “good cop/bad cop” on us. The “good cop” was 2007’s Juno, a slightly dark but very humorous story about a young woman who gets pregnant but instead of having it ruin her life, she uses the experience to learn and grow from and come out the other end a better person. Sure it was edgy at times and a little dark at times but at the end of the day it was a feel good story.

Unfortunately, Cody’s latest offering, Young Adult, goes the way of the “bad cop.” There is plenty of witty dialogue and humor-filled situations here but most of them make you feel incredibly uncomfortable. This film is over-the-line dark and depressing and filled with unhealthy levels of legitimate, clinical psychotic neuroses. We are not dealing with “Katherine Heigle crazy” here and it isn’t cute.

37 year old Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is having a rough time in life. She is divorced and the teen fiction “Sweet Valley High” type of series she is ghost-writing is coming to an end. She has a little yip dog that she takes care of (probably loves but Mavis isn’t so good at expressing positive emotions so it is hard to tell for sure) and she watches teen melodrama all day long on television, presumably for research for her writing. She is very unhappy which you can tell by the dreary coloring and way the movie is shot as well as from Theron’s performance. Mid-life crisis, check!

To make matters worse, Mavis receives an email informing her that her old high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) just had a beautiful baby girl with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). This is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back because she hatches a plan to leave her big city Minneapolis apartment in order to go back to Mercury (Minnesota) and win Buddy back. This is where it starts to go off the rails and leaves any hope for the comedy part of the dramatic-comedy description. This is way beyond a mid-life crisis; she is going home to tear a family apart. There is nothing funny about that. The question is, how serious is she about her plan? Unfortunately for Mavis and the audience, she is very serious.

Mavis makes it back to her hometown where she hits us over the head with the point that it is a podunk little hick town both verbally and scenically. The town just got a combo Pizza Hut/KFC/Taco Bell and a national chain bar/restaurant type of place. Mavis goes to the department store looking for Marc Jacobs when she knows damn well they don’t carry that high end stuff. We get it Diablo Cody, we get it; Mavis made it out, she is a hot shot author now living in the big city and she is going home to slum it. We are not stupid Ms. Cody, you could have eased off the gas pedal just a bit and we still would have gotten the point just fine thank you.

She doesn’t take long to call Buddy to get together, but he is too busy taking care of his daughter and wife to meet Mavis right away. They make plans to meet the next night but since Mavis is already standing outside of a local watering hole, she goes in and gets hammered.

There she meets Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who had the locker next to her all during high school. Of course she doesn’t remember him until he reminds her that he was the guy the jocks tortured and beat for being gay, even though it turns out he wasn’t/isn’t gay. That incident Mavis remembers and isn’t shy about reliving with Matt from her perspective. He sees that Mavis has not changed one bit since high school, but despite that he tries to play the Jiminy Cricket role, the conscious that comes to try and get Mavis off the road of total destruction she finds herself on. Oswalts does a great job of getting you to root for him while not feeling sorry for him. He is finally getting the attention from the popular girl, albeit almost 20 years later but he doesn’t surrender his dignity to do it.

Theron’s performance is quite stirring, brilliant actually. The fact that she brings a character to life like Mavis Gary, who is so absolutely dark and despicable, almost unimaginable, is a tribute to Theron’s incredible skill as an actress. There is no doubt that she should, and most probably will get considerable attention for this role come awards season.

Mavis Gear is having a mid-life crisis; Fine. Mavis Gary is hanging on to her professional success with dear life because her series she is writing is ending and she is scared about her future; Fine. Mavis writes her fictional star’s life (Kendal Strickland) as how she wants hers to be; Fine. She wants her old life, including Buddy back; Fine. She becomes in effect a psycho stalker and tries to force herself on Buddy and ruin his family; not fine.

That is the thing about this film, it just goes too far. Shit happens and life can get crazy but Cody just takes it too far. Mavis ends up having a literal breakdown at Buddy and Beth’s baby naming ceremony and it is almost sickening to watch. It is a train-wreck of epic proportions and it is no longer entertaining, it just becomes too much to take. Diablo Cody has a great sense for the human condition and has advanced levels of understanding of the human psyche and in general expresses that in appropriate stories of social structure, but not this time.

That sad thing is that this movie says a lot of important stuff but because of all the madness and the depths it goes to, those lessons get lost. There are some great character case studies we can learn from. We learn from Mavis Gary that living in the past (and in fiction) can be great but if we never move on from it then it can become quite detrimental. We learn from Buddy and Beth Slade that there is nothing wrong with the simple life and that it might not always be so exciting but it can be quite fulfilling. We learn from Matt Freehauf that although we may experience extreme trauma, we can still build successful lives. We also learn from Matt’s sister, Sandra (Collette Wolfe) that idol worship of people will not get them to be your friend, rather it will only aggrandize their delusions.

This film will have some sort of cult following and critics in general will eat it up and sing its praises because it will make them sound good and it is easy to praise something that is intelligent and edgy but that is all just being pretentious. A lot credit and praise will be heaped on Diablo Cody for Young Adult and from a technical standpoint it is all deserved but a message needs to be sent to her as well; You went too far this time.

Diablo Cody, you may be brilliant but you are fucked up and you didn’t need to make this movie this way. I told my therapist about you and he is very interested to meet you so hit me up on my cell and I’ll text you his number. You better be careful that Juno wasn’t a fluke because based on where you went with Young Adult, you could have just put yourself into prime position for being the new M. Night Shyamalan; A great start in the horse race who turned out to be a one trick pony.

I was actually looking forward to this film but all I am left with is,” Really?!?!?, Diablo Cody, really?!?!?”

Don’t waste your time or money, especially around the holidays, on this movie. Wait for it on Netflix and for when you want to feel really bad about your life and possibly all of humanity

Author: Mike D


Liz Parker - 12/16/2011

Agreed. I ended up feeling bad for Theron’s character, but I’m not sure if we were supposed to pity her or despise her. Juno is much better, but YA will do well with “the critics.”

Mike D - 12/16/2011

Excellent point, I think we are meant to both pity and despise her. I definitely lean more towards despising her. I definitely enjoyed Juno much better and yet sadly, this movie will get rave reviews from the “professional critics” because it is dark and edgy and it makes them sound more important to praise a piece of work like this than to admonish it like they should.

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