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Young Adult (2011)

by on 2013/08/29

Young Adult (2011)

“She won’t be forced against her will, says she don’t do drugs, but she does the pill.”

* * * *

“Like a John Hughes hangover” I jotted down.

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody – who previously collaborated on JunoYoung Adult follows once-popular high school student Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) as she hits rock bottom, glances around, then digs herself a sub-basement.

It’s an interesting inversion of assumptions made by films like High Fidelity, where the ageing male looks back on his life, pining for the women he’s lost . . . women who are happy alone and/or paired off and unobtainable.

Mavis, 37, lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a ghost writer for a teen series called Waverley Prep. These books have fallen from whatever grace they once might have enjoyed, and she’s blocked on wrapping it up with #178. She procrastinates with shallow acquaintances, one-night stands, and self-indulgence, as well as lavishing “care” on a toy dog named Dolce.

One day she listens to a song which reminds her of her youth and, without warning, returns to her home town of Mercury. She intends to woo ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (played by Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson) away from his wife and newborn baby girl. However, she’s repeatedly intercepted by a geek, Matt Freehauf (a terrific Patton Oswalt), who believes what she’s doing is wrong. He tries to help her in his way, torn between disapproval and attraction.

The question of whether she’s worth saving may be purely academic; she’s more out of touch than the “hicks” she holds in contempt. She constantly emanates misery and anger. She’s destructive, self-harming, and substance abusing, though hardly isolated. She extends her negativity to others through a mean-spirited intolerance, rudeness, negligence, and sabotage.

“Sometimes,” she says, “in order to heal, a few people have to get hurt.” Sadly, assuming her perspective is valid, she hurts others but never is healed. Instead, she accepts any form of reinforcement to perpetuate her own delusion. She’s damaged, misanthropic, and in need of assistance she won’t get or ever accept.

You know what anti-heroes are? Well, she makes them seem like saints.

My greatest concern with the story overall is it makes this point early on, and doesn’t evolve it, just shows it in different lights. The action takes a while to build up, conveying her ennui yet, even at just 94 minutes, it feels like a single idea stretched too far.

Young Adult is a portrait of mental illness and disintegration, without acceptance, improvement, or satisfying closure. The ending, such as it is, is merely decorative at best, not to suggest it isn’t illuminating. It shares an unrepentance with Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air. Comparatively, it’s less entertaining than edifying, and a bit overdrawn, but at least one needn’t struggle through Juno-esque dialogue to get the message.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

94 minutes

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