"You'd never guess which one of us is more mature."
** (out of four)
“Young Adult” asks us to root for a bad person to stop being so bad. Yet Mavis (Charlize Theron) does nothing to suggest that she earns this attention. If anything, she represents the exact kind of fallen star who thinks she deserves more than she really does.
More problematically, the reunion of director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody (“Juno”) establishes characters everyone recognizes—those doomed to live in the past of both high school triumphs and humiliations—and finds no undiscovered territory or unexpected wrinkles. Mavis has returned, post-divorce, from her successful life in Minneapolis to her small hometown of Mercury, where people don’t wear fancy dresses and chains generally offer the only dinner options. How. Lame.
Mavis hopes to win back her ex, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), even though she just received an email announcing the birth of Buddy’s first child with his wife (Elizabeth Reaser). Mavis cares not for formalities like this. She has deluded herself into believing she and Buddy are meant to be togther—a transparently pathetic mission Mavis’ old classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) observes partly out of curiosity and partly out of concern.
Very obviously, Cody’s script for “Young Adult” sounds little like the snappy, fast-moving “Juno,” which has aged pretty badly in the last few years. (You aren't really still using “home-skillet” in conversation, are you?) While Cody, thankfully avoiding any new pop culture terminology, delivers a few good one-liners (says Matt, self-aware to an unrealistic degree, “I’m a fat geek; I know what a zombie is”), she leans heavily on big speeches of explanation and on-the-nose emotional release, without fully developing anyone but Mavis. And Reitman’s traditional desire for everyone to turn out OK once again rings false.
Similar to many other movie characters at this point, Mavis works as a novelist, and she laments the process of writing the final book in a young adult series that has run its course. Not once does she consider anything else she’d like to write about; rather, she begins spinning the last “Waverly Prep” tale around herself, amusingly but bluntly reflecting that she still lives life like a teenager, not an adult. (A concept explored in roughly one-third of movies today.) Theron perfectly demonstrates the hovering embarrassment of a woman who used to be a big deal, yet where the movie’s power should be lies only cynicism.
Suburban happiness exists for the domestically comfortable but not the lonely, who haven’t shaken off their wounds any better than Mavis has outgrown her days as the prom queen. She often subsists on half-watching the Kardashians on TV, implicitly longing to be part of the world where beauty and money seemingly lead to no problems of any significance. Had “Young Adult” featured the latest footage from Kim’s failed marriage, Mavis would get her reality check much earlier.
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U