Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Young Adult Review: Growing Up Is Hard To Do

Back in high school, I wanted out of it because I was sick of being treated like I was mentally retarded (I was quiet and smart, really) by people who thought high school was a blast, but if you peak in high school, you're done. Life goes south (kids, mortgage, car payments, etc.) and the only relief is going to your high school reunion to relive your glory days. For Mavis Gary, the protagonist of the gallows funny, "Young Adult", the third cine-partnership between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Jennifer's Body, which Mr. Reitman only served as a producer), her relief is going to her hometown, but it's far from perfect.

Played brilliantly straightforward by Oscar holder Charlize Theron ("Monster", "North Country"), Mavis lives the lonely life of a young adult fiction writer, working on a "Sweet Valley High"-like series (Ms. Cody's currently working on a film adaptation). If she's not getting inspiration for dialogue by hanging near teenagers, she's guzzling Diet Coke and booze or having pathetic one-night stands.

When she learns that her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (good natured Patrick Wilson of "Watchmen", "A Gifted Man" and Ms. Theron's co-star in "Prometheus") is a proud father of a newborn baby girl, Mavis, recently divorced and unaware her series is about to be sacked, heads from Minneapolis ("The Mini-Apple") to Mercury to "rescue" Buddy from "domestic hell". Reality knocks in the form of Matt Freehauf (the smart, underdoggish Patton Oswalt of "Big Fan" and "The King Of Queens"), an old classmate who was crippled by bullies who mistaken him as a homosexual. Though Mavis thinks her goal's pure, Matt notes that high school wasn't a blast for everyone, particularly himself.

If you expect the same heart-warmness that was in "Juno", you should go elsewhere, but don't dismiss "Young Adult" as a bad film. It has dark quirkiness while saying arrested development isn't always a good thing. Cody and Reitman nicely note that with smart, dry, deadpan humor that echoes the work of Reitman's father, Ivan ("Meatballs", Stripes", the "Ghostbusters" films). Unlike the criminally-overrated "Bridesmaids", "Young Adult" doesn't sugar-coat a woman's "losing it".

Over-looked for an Oscar nominated here, Ms. Theron is kind of like a combo of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, the lead players of the "Clerks" films; lethargy and cynicism are combined in a perfect ten woman who desperately wants to be an eleven again, but her hair pulling gets in the way. Hating her for being a home wrecker is understandable, but, around the climax, don't be shocked if you have pity for her. Mr. Wilson's the polar opposite in his role, settled in his paternal and spousal roles and slightly hesitant to look back at his "wild, glory days".

The "bad days" are still around for Mr. Oswalt's Matt, having a shattered leg, deformed genitalia and a cane. Owning a sports bar, having a makeshift distillery in his garage and making patchwork action figures keep him happy and sane. It's funny wish-fulfillment (for anyone who can relate) when he sexually comforts a post-meltdown Theron.

Nice turns are given by Elizabeth Reaser (almost Ellen Page-like!) as Wilson's wife, a special need teacher/part-time drummer in a rock band whose members are moms, and Jill Eikenberry ("L.A. Law") as Theron's concerned mom. D.P. Eric Steelberg has a good eye for reflecting Mavis's moods when she's somewhere; Minneapolis's dreary, Mercury's sunny but has a hint of dark.

"Young Adult" isn't for anyone who liked high school and moved on. It's for the haters and those who don't want to let go.

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