Review: Young Adult (2011)

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson

There’s no denying that Diablo Cody made a big splash with her unbearably quirky, timely and somewhat poignant debut Juno, winning herself an Oscar and subsequently establishing a name for herself in the process. While both the production in question and Cody’s sophomore effort (Jennifer’s Body) pride themselves on chronic overuse of pithy, self-indulgent dialogue, I began to alternately loathe her initial feature-length efforts and question her intentions with her latest, the Jason Reitman-helmed Young Adult. Much to my surprise, this second teaming of the previously dynamic duo yields a different type of success, of which prides itself on being an agreeably dark, exceptionally humorous and even socially relevant character study that examines an infinitely flawed individual in a masterful fashion.

Unashamedly designating detestable characters as a film’s focal point(s) has always proven to be a risky move, considering filmgoers simply will or won’t be able to withstand any and all amounts of self-detructive behavior and prolonged narcicism. Last year’s Greenberg was and still is a prime example of this, and while these two films remain similar on a base level, Reitman’s sojourn through this territory comes out on top thanks to a bold sense of self-realized originality. Focusing on one Mavis Gary as her overwhelmingly adolescent mindset and naivety drives her to foolishly pursue an old flame still residing in their hometown, a slew of blatant self-absorption and uneasy reunions ensue as things quickly (and predictably) don’t go according to plan.

Being a ghost writer for a fast-fading series of young adult novels, Mavis’ prose unsubtly begins to serve as a sort of romanticized metaphor for her life while she continually shows her true colors as a full-fledged adult embodying a rather scathing and immature past form of herself. Unlikable as the character should be and certainly is, Cody has so deftly and meticulously crafted this individual so as to make it hard not to sympathize her to some extent as she unwittingly digs herself into an even deeper hole. Confiding only in a former fellow student as her efforts to win back her high school sweeheart inevitably unravel at the hands of her grand delusions and burgeoning alcholism, Mavis’ escapades aren’t particularly dense from a thematic standpoint, yet a fantastic sense of humor helps the film strike a competent balance between the blackest comedy and something much more distressing.

As a rather divisive twist is implemented within the latter act; a twist I found to be most effective despite being a blatant effort to force us to pity our female lead, Young Adult benefits endlessly from some magnificent casting choices. The aforementioned appealing blend of disparate moods is amplified tenfold by Theron’s proverbial knockout performance, embodying each and every one of Mavis’ glaringly debillitating flaws with unrivaled conviction to help Young Adult‘s darker side hit that much harder. Patton Oswalt also establishes himself as a wonderful asset, bringing as much straightforward charm to the table as he does insight behind Mavis’ steady decline and increasingly ridiculous demeanor, while Patrick Wilson and the rest of the supporting cast round out the bunch to make Young Adult one of the more well-acted films of the past year.

As a refreshing departure from your typical black comedic effort, Young Adult shines almost endlessly as an alternately hilarious and rather bleak character study that treads where others clearly haven’t thanks to how bold the film is in its intentions. Flawlessly depicting the rotten, self-destructive individual at its core, both writer and director have achieved perfect harmony in effectively illustrating the perils of failing to grow up time and time again, forcing Mavis to continually fall victim to her already crippling naivety. With stellar performances across the board and a fairly effective climax that either will or won’t feel like a divisive emotional cop-out on Ms. Cody’s part, Young Adult succeeds thanks to its sheer deftness in tackling such an appealing, seldom seen and even timely central premise.

Rating: 8/10


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