VOD film review: Young Adult
James R | On 03, Mar 2014
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser
Mavis (Theron) is driving back to her childhood town of Minnesota. She has one aim: to win back her old flame, Buddy (Wilson). So what if he’s married and he’s got a kid? Everyone knows babies are boring. Mavis sticks in an old cassette tape of 90s music. The Concept by Teenage Fanclub comes on. “She wears denim wherever she goes. Says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo,” she sings. “I didn’t want to hurt you, ohhh yeah…” She stops. She rewinds. She listens again.
Mavis hates her old home. She avoids her parents. She looks down on the locals. She barely remembers any of her classmates. She’s moved on. She’s a published author, you see – well, she’s the ghost writer of a once-popular bargain bin book series about high school girls.
“She was so beautiful they made her prom queen every year,” she writes of her fictional teen counterpart. “In a neighbouring school.” Then she drinks herself into a stupor, alone in a hotel room, systematically pulling a chunk of her hair out.
Yeah, she’s got issues – and a fashion accessory dog she locks in her bag all day – but she’s convinced her campaign to wreck Buddy’s happy marriage is the right thing to do. Patrick Wilson’s happy father naively tolerates her attempts to seduce him, while his wife Beth (an excellent Elizabeth Reaser) looks on with quiet concern. It falls to cynical former high school geek Matt Freehauf (a wonderfully bitter Patton Oswalt) to talk straight to Mavis – acerbic words of caution that are usually accompanied by home-brewed bourbon, an awkward sense of longing, and a hefty number of laughs.
After the hipster speak of Juno and the detached mid-life crisis of Up in the Air, Diablo Coby and Jason Reitman let loose here with a properly dark story. Where you expect a sobre moment of realisation or a feel-good life lesson, they just plough further on through Mavis’ painful spiral of self-destruction. But Reitman’s trademark snappy editing and agile juggling of tone somehow suits Cody’s horrible heroine, creating a disturbingly likeable lead in Charlize Theron.
“You can’t just keep living in the past,” she lectures Matt. Things continue in this vein right up to the final car crash – and then they get even more surprising. Sticking firmly with its main character, Young Adult’s unconventional climax only reinforces Mavis’ twisted world view. From the candy floss colours on the poster, you may go in expecting happy resolutions or broad jokes, but this is something more challenging: a spiky, edgy comedy that pokes out of the screen with the unresolved ugliness of real life.
Like a broken cassette tape, it stops, it rewinds, and it plays all over again.