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Theron Gets Comically Dark in "Young Adult"
What happens when the popular girl in high school cannot quite grow up? Charlize Theron tries to relive her glory days back in her hometown while the people she knew growing up have moved on. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody re-team in “Young Adult,” a story of a once-queen bee who refuses to mature.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, a ghostwriter for a long-running popular young adult series who has a knack for getting into the mind of teenage girls for her stories. However, her personal life has remained stunted as she lounges around her lonely apartment watching dumbed-down reality television in between writing sessions. She’s a borderline alcoholic who goes through her evenings with random one-night stands. It isn’t until she receives an email invite to a baby christening ceremony from her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), now happily married and a new father. Believing Buddy is unhappy and trapped in a loveless marriage, Mavis decides to return to her Minnesota hometown in the hopes of winning back her former love.
Upon her arrival, she develops an odd relationship with former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a lonely science fiction nerd and amateur distiller who now lives with his sister. Since he was a teenager, he has been suffering from a leg injury sustained from an attack by a bunch of high school jocks who believed he was gay, hence his unwarranted nickname, “hate crime guy.” The two happened to be at the same bar on Mavis’s first night back in town and during her drunken state, reveals to him her plan to break up Buddy Slade’s marriage, despite Matt’s immediate objection.
Mavis finds it difficult to rekindle the romance with her high school sweetheart since Buddy has settled down as a devoted family man. In between her mission to win Buddy over, Mavis continues with the final draft of what would be the final book of the young adult series due to a decline in popularity. She frequently confides in Matt over her mission to win back Buddy’s love while he tries his best to convince her what she is doing is selfish and immoral. Undeterred, Mavis continues on a self-destructive path to relive her glory days as the popular girl in high school but would be dealt the harsh consequences of avoiding all responsibility.
Screenplay written by Oscar award-winner Diablo Cody, who wrote the funny coming of age film “Juno,” re-teams with director Reitman for his fourth feature film. Cody, who defined her own teenage vernacular expressions in “Juno,” creates a story revolving around a 37 year old woman who is still stuck in high school mode, but not in a good way. Mavis is a self-centered, stuck up manipulator who avoids accountability but happens to make a living for herself with her ability to relate to teenage readers. She longs for the one relationship that made her happy but when she learns that Buddy has moved on with a family of his own, she convinces herself that he is trapped and longs to be with her again. She treats others as if they are below her as a way of masking her own depression. Despite this newfound relationship with Matt, who she never gave the time of day back in high school, she continues to belittle him despite confiding in him of her sinister plan.
Theron, who won an Academy Award for playing serial killer Aileen Wuorners in “Monster,” plays a more subdued monster that manipulates for her gain. “Young Adult” can be billed as a dark comedy, whereby Theron can produce occasional laughs for her blunt honesty and poor demeanor, but in the end it is a complex character study of a damaged individual. Oswalt, best known for his stand-up and role on the television sitcom “King of Queens,” is a real stand out for a terrific performance as a man who he himself seems to be stuck in high school. His character remains a nerd as an adult who still longs to be accepted by the popular kids, hence his continuing interaction with Mavis during the course of her return to town.
For director Jason Reitman, “Young Adult” proves to be his weakest, despite his exceptional track record for a young director. His best film remains 2009’s “Up In the Air” but we as an audience can still look forward to a terrific career. The same goes for writer Diablo Cody, whose dialogue in “Juno” put a temporary mark on pop culture. However, the best that can be said for “Young Adult” is that it is an interesting character study of a woman who once represented a personality that everybody encountered in high school yet remains stuck as an adult.