Thursday, January 5, 2012

How Juvenile

By Alex "The Savant" Heisman
The Savant's Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Copyright 2011
The title of Jason Reitman’s new film, Young Adult, serves two obvious functions. Firstly, the phrase refers to the type of books the main character Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) churns out rather unenthusiastically. Secondly, it also brings to the forefront the fact that Mavis is stuck in her past high school years (hence the trashy books she writes), is incredibly narcissistic, and refuses to grow up and accept adulthood. Upon deeper inspection, however, the phrase also begins to highlight a more problematic issue; namely that the movie is actually quite poorly constructed. I certainly saw a few areas and scenes that could have been developed further into an overall much more fluid and resonant piece, yet, as it stands, the film becomes Jason Reitman’s least inspired effort. The picture is the “young adult” version of a better, richer piece of cinema that never truly found its way.

Young Adult centers on the author Mavis Gary and her self-centered lifestyle. Mavis truly has nothing going for her as her publisher (J.K. Simmons in a cameo voice role) has recently cancelled her poorly selling book series and she feels too important to sustain any long-term relationship. Mavis develops, and can’t let go, of the idea that she and her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) are destined to be together, so she travels back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to see him. Mavis is completely aware, however, that Buddy is very happily married with a new child at home. Nothing in her mind can deter her in her quest except for another old high school acquaintance, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who certainly tries to after he sees the obvious lunacy of her plan. Mavis, Buddy, and Matt, must all revaluate their lives as they reconnect and figure out what is most important.

Young Adult never lives up to any sort of promise established from the previous career success of director Reitman or writer Diablo Cody. After delivering a personal and refined portrayal of the recent United States recession with his last film, 2009’s Up in the Air, Jason Reitman presents what amounts to actually quite a boring film this time around. There is no impetus for change on a scene-to-scene basis aside from Mavis’s narcissism, and because Charlize is in literally every scene, the gimmick begins to wear thin quickly and never recovers. Diablo Cody created an interesting character in Mavis Gary but, through her script, placed her in the most utterly droll and asinine world that does not serve the character’s function well.

Special dispensation must be paid, and this will sound contradictory as I have been arguing that there is no case to be made for the movie, towards the acting of Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt. Charlize, already an Academy Award winner for her brave performance in Monster, delivers the best performance by an actress this year so far (that will surely change, however, when I finally see Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady). She capitalizes on the venomous streak in Mavis rather effectively as she repels the rest of the characters and the audience with her unforgivable actions. Delivering saner emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum, common supporting player Oswalt injects a human suffering into his conception of the tortured Matt. While Patton Oswalt can always be counted on to provide some comic relief to any of the hundreds (!) of parts he has been featured in, he is finally allowed to spread his wings with the part he was born to play. Although suffering in a very different way than Mavis (to reveal why would be to lessen the impact of when the moment is revealed on screen), the character of Matt Freehauf does add some layers overall to the lacking film.

Aside from the acting of the two standouts, however, the movie completely and utterly falls apart. For being such a short movie, clocking in at an hour and thirty-four minutes, I was still filled with a sense of lethargy from the movie not developing into anything important. When the film FINALLY begins to hit its stride with the two or three scenes that end the picture, it slowly dawned on me that the credits were about to roll and there would be no time for more scenes of this caliber to redeem the rest of the flick. What a pity, too, as Diablo Cody did write one powerful and notable scene at the end as a duet between Mavis and Matt’s sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe). All the usually reliable supporting players, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Mary Beth Hurt, are literally left with not a single thing to do except stare mouth agape at Mavis’s incendiary actions.

Young Adult has just expanded wide to theaters all across America, although, judging by my review, I would not recommend going out of your way to see it. Movie: D Plus/C Minus, Redeemable Performances by Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt: B Plus.



  1. I'm curious to know what you would you have told Reitman and Diablo Cody to do in order to make this a better picture?

  2. @ Anonymous:

    The most obvious problems stem straight from the script. The world around Mavis is just so massively boring that the film relies too heavily on Charlize Theron's performance. The character of Mavis is highly interesting, yet placed in situations that simply do not serve her characters' function well at all. Jason Reitman was also not the correct person to tackle this project. I have greatly appreciated his approach in the past where he seems to be in charge of every meticulous detail, however, in this project Mavis is such a bombastic character that she fills the whole screen and forces the director to remain distant in his presentation of her. An actor's director would have better served this film. Thanks for the question!

    -The Savant