Saturday, December 31, 2011

Young Adult

The drippy darkly tinted charm of Young Adult is tests its audience within the first few minutes.  Charlize Theron, playing a narcissistic, holier-than-thou vamp goes on a date with a faceless gentleman who drags on and on about humanitarian efforts in a third world country, when the comely beauty barks, "Why?"  The stinging burn, tossed-off with such a whatever-ness contempt explains the character, the films breathless, uneasy comedy from the start.  This isn't going to be a likeable portrait of a pretty young women brought to you by the award-winning crew of the mirth instilled Juno.  Yet it's the fact that director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody bring such an anti-Juno spin to their second collaboration seems to enhance and rejuvenate their spirits, their sense of play, and sense of character.  It marks a rejuvenation for Theron for herself, freed of the histrionics of having to gain weight and put on prosthetics to be taken seriously, for she is allowed to be very beautiful and entrancingly ugly at once, chewing on Cody's biting and hard to pin down dialogue with such aplomb that one must ask the question-- how has nobody ever correctly tapped into her hidden comedic talents before?  If Young Adult in the end proves nothing more than a standout vehicle for Theron's under-utilized talents, her spirit and joie de vivre in her harsh, yet deeply textured portrait of misanthropic Mavis Gary, is more than enough nourishment for comedy deprived movie-goers.

Mavis was that small town girl back in high school that everyone knew, and many probably loathed.  The prom queen, pretty-type who flaunted how much better she was.  She had the football heartthrob for her beau (played as milquetoast corn-fed grown-up by Patrick Wilson) and the drive and haughty grandeur of someone who would never come back to her hick small town roots-- her home is the quaint (and invented) town of Mercury, Minnesota.  Long ago traveled to the big city and seemingly a successful writer of young adult fiction, living her carefree existence in her very own condo, Mavis' disillusion of grandeur are apparent from the start-- she's but a ghost writer of a successful series of youth-driven books, who spends the bulk of her days finding quotes from CW-like television shows, and the bulk of her nights drinking up a storm.  With the realization that her book series work is nearly extinct, the true tailspin occurs when Mavis receives a mass e-mail blast from Buddy (Wilson) on the arrival of his newborn child.  Nearly hellbent, but utterly nonchalant, Mavis decides the only thing she can do is save her old flame from his humdrum domesticity.

Along the way, she meets a compatible drinking buddy, a former high school nobody with a tragic past (played by Patton Oswalt), the only one who instantly calls Mavis' bluff from the start, and raises lots of trouble.  However, it's the reckless abandon of Theron's performance that is utterly inspired, as well as the crisp notes that Reitman and Cody lay down from the start-- she is never let of the hook for a second, for it would be too easy for the film to be overtaken with last minutes odes of redemption.  Mavis is a strong, smart, manipulative, domineering, nearly detestable, absolutely enthralling characterization that it's shocking a major studio (in this case, Paramount) would agree to finance the film to begin with.  But it's the nimble and unmatched charm and stinging energy that Theron provides that gives Young Adult its bent and springy awkwardness-- one that's never quite laugh-out-loud funny, but impeccably timed and nearly courageous in it's go-for-broke splendor.

It's also a nice respite for Reitman, a filmmaker, perhaps slightly weighed down by the heavy lifting of his previous film-- the awards magnet Up in the Air, who has unabashedly returned with a nicely scathing humanistic portrait, one that one must concede could never have been made for the hope of gold statutes.  B+

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