Thursday, December 29, 2011

Young Adult

Patton Oswalt and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult"
***1/2 out of ****

Young Adult is Diablo Cody's best screenplay. It may be Jason Reitman's best film too.

Cody was responsible for the screenplay Juno, which a lot of people liked but I didn't. When watching that film, I sensed a writer with a lot of potential who had interest in engaging themes and pop-cultural commentary. I wanted to like her work. But Juno and the unsuccessful Jennifer's Body were both tainted by kitschy interchangeable one liners that removed me from believing in the world where it took place or wanting to. There was this self-gratifying tone about her work. I used to say, "Diablo Cody doesn't write screenplays, she texts them."

Why did this one work so well for me? Maybe because she invented a character you're not supposed to root for. She isn't trying to impress us with this person and therefore not writing to impress.

Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a divorced late-thirties young adult fiction writer living in Minneapolis who travels back to her home town. This trip was prompted when receiving an email from her high school boyfriend announcing that he is now a father. 

Mavis rationalizes this trip as an opportunity to win back the man she believes to be her true love even if it means breaking up his home to liberate him from what she thinks must be a life of banal misery. Mavis, who was also once the most popular girl in school, seems to reconnect with people in the town in a condescending pathetic attempt to feel that she won and they lost.

Being an alcoholic, she needs a drinking buddy and uses an apathetic cripple and former class-reject to vent all her self-absorbed problems on. This character is Matt, played by Patton Oswalt (Check out this great interview here). Matt is one tragically damaged character who seems lonely enough to oblige her but has no hesitation to point out her transparent desperation. Their dialogue is gold.

I suppose what works about this movie so well is how it is a dark comic drama that never drifts into the romantic comedy, psycho-horror, or emotionally-despairing Baumbach-like movie it could easily be. It just kind of lets it's characters have space giving it's excellent cast room to expand them through perfect performances.

I was liking this movie's realism so much that I was a bit disappointed near the end when Marvis has a breakdown in front of a large group that consists of almost all the film's characters. This is as much as I will give away. I feel like talking about it because these kinds of scenes get on my nerves. I rarely believe them. This is just based on personal experience. In my life, those big breakdowns or moments of truth happen behind closed doors and if they happen in front of big groups, they end quickly. Nobody likes embarrassment to be sustained that long. 

As for Reitman, I think this film is his best. He is a very experimentally stylistic director and I think that all his choices in this one work better than in his prior work. I love the close up micro-exploration a cassette tape being replayed again and again while Mavis is on the road just obsessing over something that should have been discarded a long time ago.

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