Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Young Adult review

The marketing for Young Adult has been really curious to me. Everything about the trailers, tv spots, and even the poster just seems off. It's as if Paramount does not know how to advertise this film and, with all due respect, that poster looks like a terrible photoshop job. It doesn't even look like a real poster for a movie. When you compare that poster to Reitman's last film Up in the Air, it doesn't even compare, in terms of quality

Perhaps the reason why the marketing for the film is a bit off is because Young Adult, as a movie, is a bit off. Offbeat, off-putting, off the beaten path... not in a bad way, that's just how the movie comes across. This coming from a director, Jason Reitman, whose films Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air give off a ton of energy featuring a likable, charismatic character who dominates his way through the film. Even Juno, the previous Diablo Cody/Reitman collaboration, had a lovable lead character and an overall (albeit, rather conventional) heart-warming story.

Young Adult is anything but heartwarming. Young Adult's lead character Mavis Gary, played masterfully by Charlize Theron (she owns this role, in my opinion), is Queen Bitch. A 37-year old writer of a young adult series who decides to travel from Minneapolis to Mercury, Minnesota in order to steal away a married man that she used to date back in high school. She will try to pull out all the stops the only way she knows how: by looking incredibly, drop dead gorgeous. What she doesn't anticipate, however, is that her former flame Buddy (played by Patrick Wilson) is actually very happy in his married life. He just became a father and has seemingly long-forgotten about Mavis Gary. Of course, delusional Mavis Gary seems to think that Buddy is trapped and needs to be saved from his dull home life. What she doesn't seem to realize is that even though Mercury is pretty much the same old town it used to be, everyone in it has moved on and started families while she's been stuck in the same adolescent mindset out in the big city of Minneapolis.

There's a lot about Young Adult that is very interesting and I must say it drops quite the bombshell in the third act of the movie that almost justifies all of Mavis's actions. So much so, in my opinion, that I kind of wish the first two acts didn't feel so flat and lacking of energy. Mavis Gary is a character with tremendous comic potential. We see some of that come through, but I think more could've been done early on to really establish Mavis as a character. We get the jist of it: how she lazes around in bed, watches reality tv, drinks diet coke out of the bottle, feeds her dog, attempts to write her book... I just feel like there may have been some missed opportunities within there and the movie ultimately feels too orchestrated and by-the-numbers. It's quite early on in the film when Mavis decides to drive to Mercury and there just seems to be too clear of a story arc when there didn't really have to be. I feel that the movie stuck too closely to this plot of her trying to steal Buddy Slade when Mavis Gary is such a good character to explore.

Another interesting character is introduced partway through the film and that's Matt Freehauf (played by Patton Oswalt). Matt is a fat, crippled nerd who makes beer at his home where he lives with his sister. Although Matt was the nerd that Mavis more-or-less ignored in high school, they proceed to bond over the course of the movie and Matt appears to be the only one who can see right through Mavis. This makes for quite an interesting friendship and their scenes together are among the highlights of the film (except maybe one scene towards the end). Patton Oswalt does a great job as Matt Freehauf and once again shows surprising dramatic range, as he previously did in the little-seen 2009 movie, Big Fan.

But Young Adult lives and dies by the performance of Charlize Theron who really brings this Mavis character to life. This is a role of a lifetime for her and she completely nails it. You can see why Jason Reitman wanted her in the film so bad.

Speaking of Reitman, he does a great job of letting the story and the characters speak for themselves although it's kind of disappointing because he can really bring the directorial flare when he wants to. Watching Juno lately, I felt Jason Reitman's presence more on that film than I did in this film and ultimately, this feels like a minor effort coming from him. I don't particularly like saying that as I also think this is a great departure for him in both theme and tone. I just feel like the tone is almost too moody and dour even for a character like Mavis Gary. When it gets to the heart of the film, I just don't think it is quite as powerful as it could've been had the tone previously been a little bit lighter. I think a shift in tone would've really made the third act of the film stand out.

You can tell though that Reitman wanted to respect Diablo Cody's script and let it all speak for itself and he does a good job letting that happen. Overall, I just think the movie feels too slight and that plot is perhaps a bit too thin. A thin plot would've been fine if they did more with the main character, but we're just kinda stuck in a rather conventional script structure, something I had a problem with in Juno. Diablo Cody is growing as a writer and in many ways Young Adult is a step in the right director for her. She writes very interesting characters, I just wish she would do more interesting things with them.


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