Young Adult: A Review

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I have been curious about the film Young Adult for some time and finally got a chance to watch it yesterday while the rest of the family was half watching (also playing portable electronics while watching, never a good sign) the series finale of Merlin (can no longer recommend this TV series as it is a repetitive insulting waste of talented actors).

I am glad I did. I am a fan of the writer, Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman has not disappointed me yet. So when this film showed up on Netflix, I was happy. This film is not for everyone; however, I rather enjoyed it. It is a darkly comedic character study about Mavis Grady (Charlize Theron) a “successful” writer of series teen/young adult fiction. Mavis is living in the big city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, having shaken the dust off her hometown of Mercury. She finds herself back in her old stomping grounds, trying to relive her prom-queen glory days convinced that an old beau wants to reconnect. Unfortunately, said beau, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) is married and knee deep in new fatherhood bliss. And it is clear to the viewer as well as classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) that Mavis has neglected mental health issues.

I enjoyed how this film reveals how damaged Mavis is. We see her struggling to meet a deadline to wrap up the Wakefield High book series (a shout out to the Sweet Valley High Series of my youth and no doubt Cody’s). This book series, which doesn’t even feature her name on the cover, is completely formulaic pulp. I love the way the camera pans across a big guide book on Mavis’ shelf devoted to the formula. To make matters worse, the books that are very much past their prime and there is ongoing pressure for her to conclude it. But to do so would leave her with “what next?” Perhaps a more meaningful creative outlet? Her big city apartment is a sty; she drinks too much and hangs out at fast food joints. Here she eavesdrops on teen conversations and transcribes them into her novels. I actually though that was pretty resourceful, albeit somewhat slimy. I like the way her downward spiral is outlined for us in the film. My favorite scene is when she is looking for her novels in the local bookstore and seems thrilled that they seem to have their own special display, oblivious to the fact it is a discount pile. When she starts signing copies, it is a delightfully cringe-worthy scene, watching the store clerk squirm because the marked compies can’t be returned to the publisher for a refund.

Despite her damaged psyche, Mavis is an engrossing narcissistic creature and her connection with Matt is the best part of the film. With fascination and pity, I watch her embark on a “relationship” with another damaged person, one whom she only vaguely remembers from high school as the “hate crime guy”. Yet he seems to know her quite well, better than she knows herself, because his locker was next to hers for years. Their scenes ring true and succeed in humanizing Mavis (kudos to great acting by Theron and Oswalt).

Without this relationship, I would just be watching a sociopath. That would get boring pretty quickly. Instead I was watching a character study of someone who should have it all and spends a lot of time trying to convey that she does. Yet she really doesn’t. The high school nerd in me found that satisfying in a twisted tragic way. If only the effort that Mavis puts into grooming (brilliantly conveyed with onscreen montages) could be channeled to getting a life with some meaning, if only. I especially enjoyed how un-Hollywood this dark film is. There is no quick fix here.

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