Film Reviews

Young Adult Jason Reitman

Rating - 6/10

In retrospect, I was set up to dislike this movie.  For one thing, it centers around a vain, self-centered woman with seemingly no moral compass whatsoever, who, though now in her 30s, was one of the “popular girls” in her high school – the kind that was never aware of the existence of guys like me.  Worse than that, it’s brought to us by the writer/director “dream team” of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman that was responsible for 2009’s Juno, a movie that everyone seemed to love and I hated.  It’s not that it was a bad movie, with bad performances, unskillfully made.  It’s just that, despite the considerable charm of Ellen Page, her precocious, wise-cracking 16 year old was so hipper than thou that I recoiled from each and every one-liner she, and everyone around her, let loose like wind at Chilifest (see, anyone can do it).  It felt like an episode of MASH without the wit.  Well, they’re back!  And it looks like Juno had a miscarriage, got cynical and depressed, but never lost her facility as a grade A quipster.

I was actually with this movie for a while.  Charlize Theron, despite her good looks, is a genuinely talented actor.  She manages to generate a decent amount of sympathy for a character with few, if any, redeeming qualities.  Mavis Gary (Theron) is a ghost writer for a popular book series for teen girls which is about to be cancelled, and this is bad timing since she is still reeling from a brief, unsuccessful marriage and has taken to hitting the bottle pretty regularly.  A birth announcement from an old flame Buddy (Patrick Wilson), now happily married back in her hometown, leads to a misguided, desperate plan to win the proud new father back.  She leaves her crappy apartment in Minneapolis and heads home to carry out this nefarious scheme, only to run into Matt (Patton Oswalt) her first night in town.  Matt was the pathetic guy in high school who Mavis barely noticed and whose troubles were only compounded by a vicious beating by homophobic thugs (Matt is straight) that left him permanently disabled.  In a drunken stupor she reveals her plot to Matt who, being a decent if imperfect human being, is naturally appalled and tells her so.  As she begins her shameless attempt at seducing Buddy, who is clearly not interested in her advances and is excited about starting a new chapter in his life, Matt becomes her conscience and she strikes up an awkward friendship with him based on drinking and justifying her worst impulses to herself.

So far, so good.  Theron makes us feel every ounce of her depression, and though she is completely self-centered and despicable, I cared about Mavis and hoped she would see her way through to some level of basic decency.  Oswalt is likewise terrific as the moral center of the film and is our way into the movie, because he embodies the common sense that Mavis so desperately needs and if she is to undergo any kind of transformation, it will be through Matt.  The movie is not laugh-out-loud funny but there are plenty of chuckles along the way and Cody, who never met a snark she didn’t like in Juno, keeps the barbs somewhat under control.  So what’s the problem?  Beside the fact that Wilson’s Buddy acts so oblivious to come-ons hitting him like snowballs to the face, and his wife never registers an ounce of jealousy or suspicion around Mavis, stretching the limits of credulity, it is simply this – I absolutely hated how this film ended.  Without revealing anything, suffice to say that I felt completely unsatisfied with how major issues raised by the film, particularly with Oswalt’s character, went unresolved.  It’s a good idea to never impose your expectations on where a story will take you or how it will end up, since your job is to sit there and watch.  Let the storyteller tell the story.  But, a movie that at every turn sets up a story to go in a certain direction, and then pulls the rug out from under you, better have something wonderful lurking under that rug.  Also, a movie better not leave a major plot point involving the emotional heart of the story hanging in midair, or you’re damn well gonna want your money back.  Look, the Europeans can pull this kind of thing off, but it’s just not in the American DNA and it’s no surprise that Cody’s/Reitman’s attempt to subvert expectations falls flat.  It’s like white guys talking like gangsta rappers, just don’t do it.  I was never curious to know what a rotten lemon tasted like – at the end of Young Adult, I found out anyway.