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Movie Reviews

Young Adult



Released: 3rd February 2012

Directed By: Jason Reitman

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Mark Hester

‘Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.’ The tagline for Young Adult sets the tone perfectly before the film starts rolling. Charlize Theron graces the screen with one of her most fraught and powerful performances to date as thirty-something Mavis Gary, an unpredictable and immature author of teen literature returning to her childhood hometown after the breakdown of her marriage. Upon receiving newborn photos from her former high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), 37 year old divorcee Mavis draws on old and unforgotten feelings to draw the conclusion that they are truly meant to be and thus having decided this, she sets off to reclaim him for her own under the pretext of being in town to complete a real estate deal. She reconnects with Buddy and gradually begins to pour on the reminiscing and playfulness, refusing to be deterred by the presence of his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and their newborn child. During this time, Mavis is meant to be working on the final novel of her series of books for Young Adults. She finds inspiration in the sporadic interactions she witnesses around the town and incorporates them as best as she can. She also chance encounters another former high school classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). Initially completely unaware of his existence, the revelation of Matt’s unfortunate past, disabled as a result of a savage ‘hate crime’ by the school’s jocks who had erroneously mistaken him as homosexual. Matt tries to dissuade Mavis from her quest but is repeatedly rebuffed. Instead they continue to drink together as Mavis’ actions become ever-increasingly erratic and desperate.

With rising screenwriter Diablo Cody alongside Jason Reitman at the helm, this quirky indie flick was always in good hands. The pair’s previous collaboration was the 2007 Academy Award winning Juno and Reitman has thrived from years under the stewardship of his father Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Evolution). Reitman and fellow frequent collaborator, cinematographer Eric Steelberg employed a great use of the handheld camera during the most emotionally charged and distraught scenes, capturing a real frailty and fracture in the characters.

Theron is really the driving force in this film, really coming into her own as the manipulative and delusional Mavis. A role that from the outset may have seemed beneath her, she really manages to provide such depth to a character that could easily have fallen into one-dimensional trappings, progressively showing a deterioration of the character’s stability and making a character thoroughly unlikable that we can somehow still find sympathy for. All of this whilst providing plenty of laughs throughout with great one-liners and a spot-on portrayal of an adult still acting like the teenager she was twenty years ago. Oswalt plays a great foil as the withdrawn and sullen nobody who never really grew up from high school either and Wilson is solid in his role, showing a mature side with flashes of the lost youth that Mavis only seems to have. The film is not without its shortcomings however. There is a lack of credibility with the way Buddy deals with Mavis’ attempt to kiss him. It is hardly believable that she would receive an invite to the baby’s naming ceremony the following weekend, with or without the blessings of pity from Buddy’s wife and the ending, whilst clearly meant to signify a newfound maturity, mirrored in the ending of the character in Mavis’ final book, leaves a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion to the tale with little resolution and a seemingly forced change in character simply to accommodate the happy ending.

Young Adult is a wonderful character study of the girl who never grew up and never let go of her first real love. Theron’s performance alone beckons academy consideration but was unfortunately left out of consideration. Combined with the steady comic and dramatic stylings of Reitman and Cody, we have a real treat in particular for fans of their previous work.

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