This isn’t the movie you thought it was. It’s far darker than that.
Mavis (Charlize Theron) is the ghost author of a young adult/chick lit series. She’s got some serious issues. Mavis gets an announcement of the birth of Buddy’s (Patrick Wilson) daughter and she interprets this as cry for help. She’s come back to Mercury to liberate Buddy, her old flame, from the grips of small-town tragedy. She runs into Matt (Patton Oswalt) at the bar and he becomes her local confidant in her quest. From there on, she goes about reconnecting with Buddy misreading every event in the same mode as she’d write in her trashy novels.
This movie is about the popular girl who is almost always the bad guy in the movies. In the cliche, what happens to these kind of folks is that they get some pointless job or they’re infinitely stupid. That’s a nice way of making us all (who weren’t popular) feel better about ourselves. Here, the cliches take a break and we actually get some character study. That’s real refreshing.
Young Adult (2011) is incredibly well made by director Jason Reitman. The touches, the pace, all perfect. What really sets this movie apart is that Reitman takes his time. He’s not afraid of just watching Mavis. It drives home her loneliness and isolation. We’re just watching this breakdown happen slowly before our eyes like a car crash in slow motion.
Theron is spectacular. Spectacular. She doesn’t pull anything back or try to make her sympathetic in the least until well into the movie. And yet that makes her all the more sympathetic. Every step she takes deeper into the lie or self-deception just makes me beg her to come back to reality even harder. Along the way, though, she’s absolutely invested in the character, acting and reacting with precise self-obsession. When things finally do come to a head, she puts it all out there. Well done.
Oswalt is also fantastic as the handicapped friend. He gets most of the laugh lines and he delivers them perfectly. He also gets a great, dynamic character with all the self-awareness and tragedy you could ask for. His character is incredibly well developed for a supporting role and it raises the level of the movie from good to great.
Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno (2007), has put together a brilliant script. She develops the Mavis character so fully and deeply that there’s no doubt about who she is or where she’s coming from. Mavis is ghost-writing the final installment of a failing book series and we get to watch and hear her do it. What happens to Mavis is reflected,–and a skewed reflection it is–in her story. So, with the lies we know to be lies, we understand her completely.
Don’t approach this movie as if it’s a movie about an unsympathetic character in a romantic comedy. That would be a mistake. Rather, approach it as a movie about someone with some serious stuff she needs to get through. This isn’t romantic comedy. We know from the start that a unadulterated happy ending is out of the question, don’t we? Well, you do now.
I think that’s why everyone was surprised that this movie was any good. We all expected some crap like Bad Teacher (2011) with a meanie female lead in a low-brow, sexy comedy where the lead finally sees the error of her ways. Boy did they get that wrong. And they got it wrong in all the right ways.
Really good movie. Well worth buying.