I was a bit on the fence about seeing Young Adult. I had issues with Juno and Charlize Theron always rubbed me the wrong way, but I haven’t seen much of her more reason stuff, so maybe I’m judging her based on work she did before she had a the clout to be choosey. Also, I tend to go either way with unlikeable protagonists. However, I like Patton Oswalt and he’s been making sound film choices so we rented it and was pleasantly surprised. While not a film I can see myself rewatching, it was definitely an interesting viewing experience.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, who despite being named MAVIS GARY, was the most popular girl in her high school class. Since graduating, she has moved to the “big city” (as a snobby New Yorker I find the characters calling Minneapolis the big city adorable) and works as a writer. However, much of her life is smoke and mirrors. She is a ghostwriter for a young adult book series, so her achievements are unknown except by those who know her, and she spends much of her time plastered. While working on the series’ final book, she receives word that her ex has become a new father and hurries back to her hometown, determined to get her man back.
There is something mesmerizing about watching someone as beautiful as Charlize Theron allowing herself to be so thoroughly humiliated. The moment she steps into town, her motives are so clear and it’s so obvious that things are not going to end the way she wants them to, but she is blind and can’t stop herself. The only misstep I see on the filmmaker’s part, is having Buddy (Patrick Wilson) briefly give in to Mavis’ seduction when they drunkenly kiss outside his house. Not that I expect Buddy to be a saint and I guess it makes sense to give Mavis some sort of hope that her plan is working, but it left me very disappointed. Someone told me that the kiss did not happen in the initial script and the scene was filmed later in the production and I think you can tell. There’s a key scene where Mavis tells Buddy she loves him and she never mentions the kiss. You would think that she would counteract his insistence that he’s happily married with “What about that kiss?”.
Patton Oswalt plays Matt, a former classmate of Mavis’ that was brutally attacked their senior year. Mavis and Matt make an unlikely duo who form a friendship because if they don’t, they’ll be alone. They are both damaged (Matt both mentally and physically) but they focus on the other one’s problems instead of their own. Matt acts as Mavis’ conscious, begging her to leave Buddy and his family alone, while Mavis tells him to stop using his disability as an excuse to never move on with his life. Both are clinging to the past but differently. Mavis has built up her time with Buddy as the greatest love affair the world has ever seen, while Matt sees his attack as proof that this world is nothing but shit.
I liked that they made Buddy’s wife Beth cool. Often with these love triangle plotlines, the wife would either be totally wrong for Buddy or an angelic saint. Beth plays in a band, she’s comfortable with her husband’s ex visiting, who would leave her for alcoholic Mavis? I read someone’s take on the internet who felt Beth was an asshole, who was trying to rub it in Mavis’ face that she won Buddy, but I don’t know. She seems too laidback to cook that up.
Another scene I find really interesting is when Mavis begrudgingly visits her parents. It’s hard to tell if her parents made Mavis the mess she currently is or if they have gotten fed up by her dysfunction. Mavis asks her parents to take down a photograph of her with her now ex-husband on their wedding day. They explain it is a reminder of a happy day in their life. It made me wonder if Mavis was to blame for the divorce and her parents knew it. I could imagine it being hard, losing a son-in-law because of your daughter’s unrepentant, self-destructive ways. However, they could just be so obsessed with keeping up appearances that they can’t admit their daughter has a failed marriage. They do laugh at her admission that she may be an alcoholic and seem to view her nervous hair pulling as an annoyance instead of a problem that needs their sympathy.
Not sure what will happen to Mavis in the future. She hit rock bottom in a particularly spectacular way but when speaking to Matt’s sister, she got what she had been seeking for the whole film, confirmation that she is the object of envy, so it’s hard to tell if she is going to make the necessary changes to her life. However, I do feel confident about Diablo Cody maturing as a writer. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her after Juno, but I’ll definitely give her next film a shot.
Fun Fact: While set in Minnesota, some of the film was shot in my dad’s hometown, Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York.