Film Review: Young Adult (2011)

Release Date: December 9th, 2011 (limited)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser

Mandate Pictures, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films, Denver & Delilah Films, Paramount Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes in order to heal… a few people have to get hurt.” – Mavis Gary

It may be easy to watch Young Adult and to just see Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary as a self-absorbed asshole. It may also be easy to just dismiss her as an unlikable character and someone that isn’t relatable. But this isn’t a movie about a terrible person, it is a movie about a person with mental illness.

The film follows Mavis, shortly after her divorce, as she decides to go back to her small hometown to reconnect with the man she feels she is destined to be with, even if he is already married and just had a baby. In the process, she runs into a bullied kid from high school, Patton Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf. The two start to develop a bond and Matt becomes Mavis’ voice of reason.

As the film plays out, you start to see through Mavis’ surface and start to understand that she is not well and probably never has been. Matt is the only person that ever had patience with her and understood what was happening that didn’t just tolerate her because she was the prom queen in high school. It’s the dynamic and the solid chemistry between Theron and Oswalt that makes this movie work so well.

Mavis’ day job is being the ghost writer for a young adult book series. The movie starts with her suffering from writer’s block but then she starts to write the story, reflecting on her own life as a form of literary therapy. Theron’s narrations of her character’s written work serve to give some sort of metaphorical insight to her thought process and her eventual closure. While this is a trope that has been used to death in film, I really like how it was used here.

The biggest strength of this film is the acting. Theron was exceptional and while she is already seen as an exceptional actress, this just felt very personal and she’s never been more convincing. I’m not saying that she is mentally broken like Mavis but it just felt as if there was a real part of herself in this character. Additionally, Patton Oswalt has never been better and I’m a long time Oswalt fan.

This film was also a collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Both of them worked together on the critically acclaimed Juno. This re-teaming produced a better product, however. Yes, I really enjoy Juno but this picture eclipses it and it’s kind of disheartening that this didn’t get the recognition and fanfare that Juno did. But the Academy and the top critics are just weird in what they accept and what they don’t.

Young Adult is a better film than its lack of award show buzz would have you believe. Many critics did seem to like it but it came out in a year where people thought Moneyball deserved a Motion Picture of the Year nomination. That’s not a knock against Moneyball but c’mon, Motion Picture of the Year caliber? Really? And I’m not saying that Young Adult is the best film of 2011 but it’s a better movie than half the films that got the big nomination. And to put it bluntly, Theron put in a better performance than Meryl Streep that year, who already had more Oscars than wieners in a pack of hot dogs.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Margot at the Wedding, as the two share some themes and narrative similarities.

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