Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody last collaborated on the Oscar nominated JUNO. Cody won the Oscar for her screenplay, her first produced script. Some thought she was a one hit wonder following her entertaining, but not all that original, horror flick JENNIFER’S BODY. YOUNG ADULT proves them wrong.
This dark comedy follows Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron, MONSTER), a ghost writer for a popular tween girl book series. Her life is at a low point with the recent end of her marriage and the close of the book series. Everything seems even worse when she gets a birth announcement from Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson, LITTLE CHILDREN), her old high school flame. So she gets the great idea of going back to her small hometown and break up his marriage.
In the little Minnesota town of Mercury, she was the prom queen and the envy of the other girls. Now she is approaching 40, dressing like she’s 20 and completely consumed with her own wants and desires. She is convinced that Buddy and she can get past his marriage to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, TWILIGHT) and his newborn daughter. In a drunken confession at a bar, she reveals her plan to former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt, BIG FAN), who she only remembers as “hate crime boy.” In high school, jocks, believing he was gay, beat Matt severely, leaving him to use cane for the rest of his life. And that’s not the worst of his problems.
Theron does a remarkable job of creating a self absorbed homewrecker without an ounce of irony. Living on a diet of Diet Coke, booze and vacuous reality shows, she is a hot mess by day and then transforms herself with tons a makeup and hair extensions into a walking man trap beauty. This cougar has a serious case of arrested development. In her eyes, no one has changed since high school. She is a reprehensible person, but utterly fascinating.
Cody’s script does a precise balancing act to keep the audience engaged when the central character is so awful. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And sadly, because we know people like her, we look forward to the inevitable collision with reality. Along the way, we get to meet Buddy and Matt. Buddy is a stand-up guy and we understand why she wants him back. He was a bright spot in her life. Oswalt’s Matt is in his own form of arrested development. His hobbies include making homemade alcohol and creating custom action figures by combining different pieces of action figures together. He sticks around Mavis because as he says guys like him were born loving girls like her. Just her paying attention to him is a high school fantasy come true.
Cody walks this tight rope straight forward. Then when we come to the big moment of comeuppance and she surprises us. When it’s all finished, Mavis is taken down, but we have a newfound sympathy for her. We feel sorry for her, because we know why she is the way she is. Then Cody finds a moment perfect to close with that I will keep secret. This isn’t a film where the bad people see the error of their ways and everything is fixed with a nice bow on it.
Cody crafts wonderful characters and Theron and Oswalt bring them to life with depth and subtlety. Reitman simply serves the material. Throughout the film, Mavis seems to be calling out for someone to shake her straight, but in the same turn, puts down anyone who tries. She right when she says she has problems. If there is any lesson to be learned from this film, when your psycho ex calls to have drinks, don’t go.