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review: young adult

Sunday 26 February 2012

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Young Adult directed by Jason Reitman, written by Diablo Cody, starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Elizabeth Reaser

I’m not 100% on the Diablo Cody bandwagon. Juno was alright, I guess. Charming – but I never really bought into it that much. Jennifer’s Body was pretty gosh-darn awful in a way that few films have achieved. But I watched the first season of United States of Tara (her sitcom about a woman with multiple personalities) a while back, and thought it was pretty fresh. So I had mixed feelings going in to Young Adult – it could swing either way for me.

Image my relief, then, that I really enjoyed it!

Young Adult is an insight into the world of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a thirty-something author and divorcee, who returns to the small town where she grew up to seduce her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).

That’s a pretty uninspiring synopsis, I’ll admit. And in other hands, this tale might have been something quite different. Certainly there are elements of slapstick that other directors could have exploited, and I shudder when I imagine some bizarro alt-reality, where Judd Apatow is at the helm of this project. But in Jason Reitman’s capable hands, Young Adult transcends its genre, and becomes a poignant and moving exploration of a kind of mid-30s slump.

The key to this, I think, is in Mavis’ career. She’s the big-city-success-story, but her success is only relative to the lives of the people in the town she left behind – in reality her career is pretty marginal, and waning fast. Her dependence on alcohol is quite obvious, and there is an air of wasted potential around her that hints at tragedy. Thus, we don’t take pleasure in her failings, we pity them. Theron is wonderful at foregrounding this element of her character, and plays her quirks and compulsions absolutely on-key.

Patton Oswalt, too,  is brilliant as Matt, “the hate crime guy”, who acts as Mavis’ social conscience, but also mirrors Mavis as a life that never fully blossomed.

The product placement in Young Adult is many things, but ‘subtle’ is not one of them. Diet Coke, Ben & Jerry’s, KFC and Mini all form a supporting cast in the film’s narrative. Given, however, that this is one of the best methods of producing independent film at the moment, I can’t criticise it too heavily. But I do have one complaint to make: for the first hour or so, I wondered who the film was sneering at. I’m still not certain, and at times I suspect Cody and Reitman don’t know either.

A Dangerous Method is currently showing at Duke of Yorks Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton BN1 4JD