Charlize Theron shines in Jason Reitman”s newest comedy-drama.
Throughout his career, director Jason Reitman has found solace in charming lead actors. His subjects are confident, brash quip machines, as seen in his first three films: “Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” A reliable protagonist, someone confident enough to lead us to a satisfying conclusion, always anchors his confidence in satire.
In that regard, Reitman’s films have suffered a crisis of convenience. Every plot point is a little too neat and tidy. This doesn’t squash his narratives, but rather leaves them feeling rather calculated. To say he’s challenged that with his newest project, “Young Adult,” would be an understatement.
The film”s main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is a semi-successful writer of a string of teen romance novels. Every morning, before she ignores her dog and berates her friends, Mavis wakes up in her scummy high-rise apartment and chugs Diet Coke from a two-liter bottle. She seems resigned to the fact that her life mirrors that of the Kardashians, who are always on her television. The glorious verve of J.K Rowling this is not.
One nondescript morning, Mavis receives an email from her old flame, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), announcing the arrival of his first child. She returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minn., with the delusion of rekindling her past love with a very happily married man.
Mavis would be no more than your standard movie lunatic without a foil — luckily she has Mark Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), whose high school locker sat next to hers. Matt was nearly beaten to death in high school for being gay, despite the fact that he’s not gay; when Mavis finally recalls the ordeal, she affectionately refers to him as, “the hate crime-guy.”
Theron’s performance is fierce. Is Mavis suffering a mid-life crisis or just plain crazy? We’re not given a clear answer, and that’s to be commended. For a online casino character with her audacity and seemingly endless confidence in the worst-plan-ever to still be watchable is an incredible achievement. Oswalt is our Greek chorus, the only person in her life with the confidence to point out Mavis’ rampant alcoholism and delusions of marital bliss.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay is her most understated to date. Although at times she can’t help but infuse the characters with her operatic, pop culture rhythms, she finally allows them to breathe. Reitman’s steady hand occasionally detracts from this, rarely helping his actors move beyond the material.
Minor quibble aside, Reitman and Cody have crafted a seething, oddball of a studio picture. The subversion of romantic comedy tropes will turn many off, but not me. This is an angry movie; an indictment of modern celebrity culture that I thought would pull punches, yet it never does. Mavis believes she’s in a Julia Roberts movie but we all know she never, ever is.