Young Adult (2011) Review (R)
Young Adult alludes both to the central character’s occupation as a writer of ‘teen fiction’ and probably to the fact that she isn’t anymore. Mavis, played by the very alluring Charlise Theron, is 37 and still behaving (to a degree) like someone in high school. She still has the ‘high school clique’ mentality. She isn’t responsible. She seems to be burnt out, hollow and lonely (CLEARLY evidenced by her chugging diet cola like a hamster). When she receives a baby photo from an old flame of his latest addition to the family, she gets worked up about it. Apparently her past was out of sight, out of mind until the photo. She’s recently divorced, so perhaps the photo is a reminder of what she doesn’t have and that she’s not happy.
So she does what anyone would do. She goes back to rekindle that spark with her old boyfriend, break up his marriage and live the life with the guy that once made her happy when they made out. Logical, right? The film knows that’s crazy. they just don’t know the degree of crazy that that really is. When she gets to town she needs a ‘fat buddy’ that is typical of films where the girl is trying to win back a guy, so enter Patton Oswalt. Oswalt plays a former classmate who was the object of ridicule and abuse when they were teens. The film follows a path that could have been mapped out by the viewer fairly early. Once it became apparent she was never going to change, you could even see the ending. I think I wanted a bigger, more explosive finale than just the embarassment of the central character. The film had been over the top in depicting her reality anyway, so why not a more shocking ending. There is a moment where the sister of Oswalt in the film seemed to display her own fixation on Mavis and was going to provide the shock ending. Nope. I think I need something like that.
This is essentially a film about someone who doesn’t have all their priorities straight, have hit a wall in their life and think that the answer to their problems will be to win back a past flame. Sound familiar? It does to me. Apparently, some critics (Roger Ebert) think that this has never been done before. Even the cynical ending has been done. Usually in these types of films there is a third person who is the one that is right in front of their eyes, they just don’t see the forest for the trees. Eventually there is that moment where they realize they’ve been looking at everything the wrong way and that special friend is really the one that will make them happy. That doesn’t happen here. The central character just reaffirms her skewed worldview. But, that’s not new, either.
Despite what I heard about this film, it isn’t the vastly original film that it wants to be. The film wants to be much darker, much more cutting edge, but keeps giving the main character scenes where she’s cute rather than offensive such as the book signing scene. Mavis is more to be pitied than someone to be hated. The eventual meltdown that she has in the film is entirely expected. And she doesn’t learn from her mistakes, so there is no character arc. It’s more of the writer creating a straw man (or woman) to hate. “See? Don’t you hate people like this?” There is no ‘fall’ because she’s already at the low point at the start of the film.
The characters are far too cartoonish as to what the director is trying to get across. I get the idea that Theron’s Mavis character is supposed to be someone that the audience is supposed to dislike, but I never did. One, it’s Charlise Theron. So what if she’s a little cranky? It’s still Charlise Theron. In fact, that her character eventually falls into bed with a complete shlub like Oswalt Patton is another reason to like her. Modelesque, not smart and she has low standards. Oh, yeah. That’s a girl I’m going to despise. Really?
Roger Ebert called this a ‘character study’, but I would disagree. It seemed more sitcom-ish than anything else. There are contradictions to the character the entire film. The point of the movie appears to be to show that one particular person who thought themselves better than everyone else in high school had not changed at all and that her life suffered because of it. She obviously has changed, though, given that she spends a large amount of time with the former high school loser (who survived a vicious attack by classmates that made national news) even when she’s not drunk in a bar.
The characters are even likable when they shouldn’t be. The ‘moment of come-uppance’ is even muted by the gag that the husband’s been in the garage and he doesn’t know what’s really going on hen he’s offering up his surprise gift to his wife. Without the drum gag, you don’t let the audience off the hook. They’re as uncomfortable as the main character. With the gag, well… it’s a John Hughes end of second act moment. I think the mistake of this film is clearly the tone. It’s a quirky, indie comedy while clearly they wanted this film to have some bite. It doesn’t have that. Weirdly, I still like the film, though. I liked the characters largely because I like the actors. Theron (Smokin’ hot). Oswalt (funny). Even Patrick Wilson (likable). They make the film despite the uneven writing and tone. It’s actually funnier than it should be for the film to have an emotional impact. As it is, it’s a watchable indie flick where Theron is stripped down to her moneymakers. The lone drawback is that Oswalt is, too. I have to applaud the man, though. He’s given us all hope. In all seriousness, I think the 198os film “Smithereens” was a better film with a similar point. The end frame had much more of an impact than tyhis one did.
Is this my best review? Clearly not, but I just can’t shake the image of Theron in her skivvies out of my brain. Nor would I want to. If I had just posted 10 pics of Charlise (sans text), it wouldn’t have changed the content that much. It might have even improved my review. Maybe I could have even created an ‘all Charlise, all the time’ channel to link to… Anyway, I’ll try harder next time, I swear. That Prometheus review 6 months from now is going to be tricky, though.