I consider myself fairly “hip” to the times. I’m on Twitter (though it took a while). I’ve had a Facebook profile for years. I can generally roll with whatever language “the kids” are using these days. (Am I still a kid? I am, after all, a baby-faced 22.) But maybe I wasn’t in 2008, when I finally got around to the Diablo Cody-penned Juno. Or maybe Cody just out-hipped me. Because as expertly acted and directed as Jason Reitman’s second film was, I just hated the dialogue. Hatehatehatehated it. I wasn’t ready to forshizzle my homeskillet out of the oven, I suppose.
So it was with trepidation that I walked into Reitman and Cody’s second collaboration, Young Adult. (Let me note here that I love Jason Reitman and I think his other two films have been fabulous. And I don’t chalk my distaste of Juno up to his direction.) But I’m now closer to worshipping at the altar of Diablo, because Young Adult erases all the bad feelings I developed about Juno – and for a slick bonus, does it with normal English.
Unlike Juno, which sports an array of fantastic actors and meaningful characters, Young Adult is essentially a three-person story. There’s our semi-titular character, Mavis Gray, a 37-year old struggling writer, played by Charlize Theron. I say semi-titular because Gray writes a series of young adult novels, but the film’s title likely lends itself to her refusal to grow up. Gray guzzles two-liter bottles of Diet Coke, wakes up hung over on a daily basis, and specializes in fast-food joints (so much so that she’s nicknamed one conglomerate “Ken-taco Hut”). It’s the typical life of a college student – it just comes a decade and a half after. This is the portrayal of a wholly unlikeable character, but Theron fleshes her out and hits every beat so perfectly that you can’t help but be entranced.
The other two characters who have a major part to play in Young Adult are Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former high school nerd and current, well, nerd, and Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), Mavis’ former boyfriend. Credit goes to both Oswalt and Wilson, a duo of wickedly talented actors, who both stand out. Oswalt has received the lion’s share of praise so far, and deservedly so – his character forges a fascinating relationship with Mavis while drawing from a darkly uncomfortable past.
It’s Buddy who’s the apple of Mavis’ eye. She returns to her old hometown of Mercury, Minnesota after receiving an e-mail invitation to join Buddy and his wife Beth for a celebration of their first child. But Mavis intends to blow it all up, show Buddy what he’s been missing for years, and reclaim her past love. It’s a plan that sounds dubious to anyone with a rational way of thinking – which Mavis doesn’t have. And outside of Matt’s raw honesty, there’s nothing or no one to derail the former Mercury High prom queen on her quest. It’s cringe-worthy to watch the reunion between the two, each with their varying degrees of oblivion to the situation. (Mavis to Buddy, about his “bad situation” of having a loving wife and child: “We can beat this together!) But Theron and Wilson nail their high-degree-of-difficulty chemistry in every scene. This is a tougher task than just playing a love-struck couple, or an emotionally unstable one. The two have to strike the perfect blend of awkwardness and amiability, and they do.
But there are two other relationships that carries the movie. The first is the aforementioned unlikely pairing of Mavis and Matt. The two couldn’t have been more dissimilar in high school; though their lockers touched, Matt laments to Mavis “you looked in your mirror more than you looked at me.” But upon Mavis’ return to Mercury, the two forge a bond out of necessity disguised in alcohol.
The second is the relationship between screenwriter and director. Both Reitman and Cody thrive on attention to detail here. Witness Mavis, in an early scene, playing the Wii Fitness video game as score after score of “OK” flashes across the screen. Or pay close attention to how Reitman films each one of Mavis’ three makeovers in the film – a visual flourish that’s similar every time but marked with small distinguishing differences. The movie was shot in a 30-day span and on a $12 million budget, putting Reitman once more at the top of his game here.
I haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body, Cody’s apparently-ill-fated foray into horror – and perhaps I should have before making this statement. But I will still definitively say this is the best movie written by someone whose Wikipedia entry features the subhead “Stripping and Journalism.” Honest to blog.
COMING TOMORROW: A review of a Pitbull song. Uh-oh. A quick preview…
“Pitbull and I are sworn enemies, like Batman and The Joker, like the Yankees and Red Sox, like Dennis Rodman and natural hair color. The only difference is Pitbull doesn’t realize this yet. I’d actually venture a guess that he doesn’t even know I exist. But my hatred for this man’s music runs high. Ever since Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera used that horrible I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) song as his at-bat music, Pitbull and I have been positioned on opposite sides of the coin – me with my iTunes of good music, he with his world-destroying freestyles ranging from horrible to…well, horrible.”