** (out of 5)
December 16, 2011
Charlize Theron as MAVIS GARY
Patton Oswalt as MATT FREEHAUF
Patrick Wilson as BUDDY SLADE
Elizabeth Reaser as BETH SLADE
Directed by: Jason Reitman
BY KEVIN CARR
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Every year around this time, I find a handful of films that are getting oodles of accolades from other critics that I just didn’t like. This year, some of these movies include “Bridesmaids,” “Tree of Life” and now “Young Adult.”
That’s not to say that “Young Adult” is a terrible movie. It really isn’t. But it left me cold. I didn’t feel any passion either way. I didn’t love movie, story, script or performances. But I didn’t hate them either. “Young Adult” exemplifies the definition of “meh”… and that’s even worse than a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad film.
“Young Adult” tells the story of a woman who writes teen fiction… well, she sort of ghost writes for a bigger name author who created the series. Think all those unnamed writers who penned the V.C. Andrews books or the “Sweet Valley High” series in the 80s. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, who is seeing her bread-and-butter series “Waverly Prep” coming to an end. As she struggles to write the last book, she gets an email birth announcement from the wife of her ex-boyfriend from high school.
This sends her on a quest back to her home town. She attempts to rekindle what she thought was the best relationship she ever had. Along the way, she runs into the school nerd, who acts as the voice of reason, trying to talk her out of her plan.
“Young Adult” is significant for no other reason than it re-teams Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody with her “Juno” director Jason Reitman. At the very least, this isn’t the worst script Cody has written (because we all know that honor goes to “Jennifer’s Body” from several years ago). But it is a huge step down from Reitman’s previous film “Up in the Air.”
There has been plenty of criticism from people about how wretched of a person Mavis Gary is in the story, but that is the point of the movie. My problem with this film isn’t how awful Mavis is. Rather, it’s that we see no character growth in her. She learns nothing through the course of the film, emerging from it like the subject of the reality trash TV shows she watches.
It’s not that there isn’t a moment – or moments – where this could happen. There are plenty, and in many ways, the movie plays out like an interesting drama where the lead character can emerge a better person… or at least with a certain level of remorse or desire to change. But we see none of this in Mavis, even though she’s in dire need of therapy, medication and a swift kick in the ass.
I say this is lazy screenwriting by Cody. She has all the tools available to make this a compelling drama, but they are squandered for the cinematic equivalent of shrugging her shoulders and walking away. And the rest of the characters are no better. They’re either rock-stupid people making some of the dumbest decisions of their lives, or they are just as horrible as Mavis is.
Already, “Young Adult” has gotten some award nominations, mainly for the writing and acting from Theron and Oswalt. But like the film itself, these performances are hardly career-making. Theron plays a version of her troubled-yet-beautiful self we’ve seen in better films like “Monster” (and worse films like “North Country”). Oswalt plays a less stand-up comedian version of himself, the doughy nerd who’s got his own problems.
In the end, I didn’t care about “Young Adult” any more than I do about the gnat that buzzes around my ear for a brief moment on a summer’s day. It’s an utterly forgettable, lost opportunity of a film.