Saturday, 3 March 2012

Film Review: Young Adult

Mavis Gary (Theron) is your typical high-school mean girl. Only problem for this adolescent fiction writer is that her behaviour doesn't warrant that of a divorced thirty-seven year old. In a moment of insanity (or serene clarity in her warped mind), Mavis decides to 'liberate' her ex high school boyfriend (Wilson) from the drudgery of marriage and parenthood.

Young Adult is a tragic, yet hilarious portrait of a 'queen bee' who refuses to grow up. If there were ever a more deserving recipient of the title 'condescending super bitch', then unrepentant Mavis would certainly take it with aplomb. She is the type of person who confuses 'being honest' with 'being a nasty piece of work', displaying the same emotional maturity as the characters in the "young adult" fiction she writes. While Mavis is far from stupid what makes her even more deplorable is how unredeeming she is, bearing an uncanny familiarity to Cameron Diaz's equally reprehensible Elizabeth in Bad Teacher. But at least Elizabeth hinted at signs of redemption whereas Mavis shows no indications of personal growth. Indeed, there isn't anything likeable about her, deserving more of pity than hatred which only makes her case all the more sad where the only relief that will come is if she recognises the state she's in.

Given Hollywood's penchant for delivering salvation, it is refreshing that Young Adult eschews most notions of life affirming revelations. However, while sharp and pleasingly subversive in many ways, this also comes as a double-edged sword. Normally for this kind of film the third act will result in some sort of character explosion and a sudden epiphany as to the error of their ways. To say this utterly deviates from this would be inaccurate, but there is an astringent tone to it all which one might either revel in if you're gleefully twisted or view as sickeningly nihilistic. Young Adult will toy with your preconceived notions, brazenly contorting them in a fashion unfamiliar to something of this genre. But it is these shocks which make Young Adult so successful.

Young Adult is one of Theron's best roles to date, brilliantly nuanced in her self-absorbed path of chaos while simultaneously clearly battling a deep-rooted unhappiness. What's more is that she's genuinely funny, even if her train-wreck of a situation is more deserving of sympathy and concern. Patton Oswalt is also excellent, a sardonic ex-classmate named Matt who Mavis never noticed and left crippled by the very jocks she used to hang out with. In an ironic twist he becomes Mavis' confidant and vessel of solace, their scenes together providing the best moments in the film as Matt calls her on her bullshit while she accuses him of using his disability as an excuse for everything. Patrick Wilson is reasonably affable as Buddy, the ex Mavis tries to seduce, but is perhaps a bit too wet and schmaltzy for some tastes. Also, for a film which is centred around a psycho on a mission to break up her ex's marriage, it is  a bit disappointing that we never really get an insight into what Buddy feels himself. Instead he just stands there and smiles awkwardly as Mavis just as gracelessly pulls out all her cringeworthy moves.

Be under no illusions that Young Adult is all sunshine and lollipops - it is more an engrossing exposition of two complex characters. However, that is not to take away from the fact that this is also a very funny comedy. Fortunately director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have managed to achieve an excellent balance between darkly comic and deeply disconsolate. This is sharp, sullen, and by no means saccharine.