Former Prom Queen Tries to Go Home Again in Young Adult

Charlize Theron’s prom queen goes home again in YA

Described as a "psychotic prom-queen bitch," the anti-heroine of Young Adult is a prize part that affords Charlize Theron one of the season's prize performances—although, to judge from the voting at the New York Film Critics Circle conclave last week, few of my colleagues seem to agree.

Perhaps it's because Theron's Mavis Gary, a writer with attitude, is a character too close for comfort. Theron established her bona fides and won an Oscar playing a serial killer in Monster; Young Adult, directed by Jason Reitman from Diablo Cody's screenplay, allows the glamorous actress to take on another traditionally "male" role. Here, she's something like the early-'80s Bill Murray: a slovenly, spiteful, self-absorbed, snobbish, smart-mouthed case of arrested development—the precise opposite of the maddeningly precocious little protagonist who gave her name to Reitman and Cody's previous collaboration, Juno.

Indeed, unlovable Mavis is pretty much the un-Juno—a 37-year-old, Minneapolis-based writer (or ghost writer) of high school romance fiction, as well as a divorcée and an alcoholic. While working on the last book in the series that has served as her sinecure as well as an alternate reality, she is plunged into an existential crisis—if not temporary insanity—with the receipt of a mass e-mail announcing her high school boyfriend Buddy's fatherhood. Leaving the previous night's date snoring in her bed, she packs up and drives back to Mercury, Minnesota, while playing a vintage mixtape heavy on the Replacements.

Details

Young Adult
Directed by Jason Reitman
Paramount Pictures
Opens December 9

Interview: Patton Oswalt Was Once a Young Adult, Has Aged, Reflects

A woman on a mission to break up the boyfriend's marriage and—who knows the precise fantasy?—maybe start anew, Mavis cold-calls her ex (Patrick Wilson) then heads into a sluggish bar inhabited by an affable schlub (Patton Oswalt) who instantly recognizes her from high school and whom, after a few drinks have blunted the edge of her hauteur, she remembers as "the hate crime guy"—a loser mutilated for life by a gang of jocks who imagined he was gay. Among other things, they bond in their distaste for Mavis's cousin—"the popular cripple" whose automobile accident she complains, "totally ruined" her sweet 16 party—as well as their shared adoration . . . for Mavis. Not for the last time does this mismatched pair of adolescent antipodes get hammered together.

Mavis writes about high school, and, in essence, she still lives there—eavesdropping on mall girls and incorporating their patois into her books and, when needed, her own drama. An extended lost weekend with intimations of Groundhog Day, Young Adult has the former prom queen waking each morning from a drunken stupor to spend the afternoon dolling herself up for the evening's "date" with good-looking dumb bunny Buddy. These increasingly disastrous tête-à-têtes range from a drink at the local sports bar to a barroom performance by Nipple Confusion, the all-femme amateur band in which Buddy's good-natured wife (Elizabeth Reaser) bangs the drums—and to which Mavis shows up looking like Olivia Newton-John in the final scene of Grease—to the new baby's naming ceremony, a ritual seemingly attended by the whole town of Mercury, including Mavis's parents.

Young Adult might be brushed off as curdled rom-com were it not for two things. The first is the depth of Theron's performance. As outrageously mean, dissolute, bratty, and delusional as Mavis becomes, she never ceases to inspire sympathy—even when she demands it. The second, less predictable aspect is the utter absence of the corny rehabilitation found in Juno and Reitman's glib, downsizing dramedy Up in the Air. Mavis might hit bottom (or not), but there's no pot of small-town virtue at the end of this narrative rainbow. For all the revelations regarding the roots of her Mavis-ness, the girl's bitchiness remains intact. She is forever young.

 
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5 comments
Ray
Ray

You should cease seeing movies as a drug. Think of them as a window, not a mirror. Quit looking for yourself in them.

Neil9
Neil9

I saw Juno in the theaters and have followed the Diablo Cody series United States of Tara, so I had an idea of how both "off", funny, slightly twisted, sad and deeply introspective of the "choices we made result in the lives we have" themes Cody tends to use. The Mavis character does not start out as a likable person. But by the middle of the movie you start to understand why she is the way she is. She doesn't have an epiphany about herself and her actions, but she does come to see the life she's made in a different light. In some ways one could say she's pushed to the edge in a similar way that the character from the movie Network was ("mad as hell and not going to take it any more") and that that comes out, justifying her actions and her hopes. She is searching for a simpler time. For when life made sense and she had control. That becomes obvious. But it isn't until she has the talk with the sister of Oswalt's character (Oswalt also plays a character in United States of Tara) that a self realization of what she had accomplished outside of the town she'd left after high school is relative to what those who stayed in the town had accomplished. It truly becomes a matter of perspective as to who has gained the most after high school. Mavis or her old school mates. As for the question of rehabilitation, that presumes that there is a need or reason for rehabilitation in the first place. And that comes down to what environment is the person in. What would be an easy going and supportive person in one environment would be unto a door mat/looser in another. Just as an aggressive person in one setting would be an active go getter in another. It's relative and recognizing where our talents best work and are appreciated is a late recognition made by the film. On the topic of Theron's acting ability: yes, she does run an emotional gambit. If you've heard what she did in the movie Monster, then you will have some expectations of her range. She does not disappoint. She is believable and gains your empathy as she reveals the layers of the character. There is vulnerability deep within the character, and just as quickly as it is revealed, it is closed up and whisked away into the new morning.

Chief Fukowi
Chief Fukowi

Great acting but just a horrible depressing story about a stunningly beautiful but completely self absorbed alcoholic psychopathic unfulfilled middle aged woman with the morals of an alley cat. I'm not interested in mediocre feel good movies but if you would like to escape to something better - this film will make you feel worse than you did going in. Of course the reviewers liked it as they like anything out of Hollywood that focuses on degenerates and the lowest common denominator.

Flavorbud
Flavorbud

Actually, while the mixtape track is Teenage Fanclub.

Sakara
Sakara

ANOTHER movie about....a writer!

 

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