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Young Adult | reviews, news & interviews

Young Adult

Young Adult

Charlize Theron proves you can't go home again - or can you - in Jason Reitman's latest

Monster, moi? Charlize Theron attempts to relive her past in bracing black comedy

Charlize Theron proved her acting chops, and won an Oscar in the process, playing a serial killer in the movie Monster, but surely her brilliantly realised Mavis Gary in Young Adult is very nearly as monstrous, albeit in a different way. Emotionally fixated to the point of pathological single-mindedness, Mavis is every "psychotic prom-queen bitch" (the film's words, not mine) you may think you left behind in school but haven't. And though she's as fine-boned and alluring to look at here as Aileen Wuornos was both pasty and pockmarked, don't be fooled. Beauty truly is skin-deep.

The result is a tonally tricky yet hugely rewarding film that is all the more pleasing for its refusal to pat either audiences (or its heroine) on the head in some spurious attempt to send us on our enlightened way. One can imagine the greeting card-style bromides that might beset a cheesier telling of this same tale. Instead, director Jason Reitman and his Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody have devised a blistering study of sadness as some people's inevitable lot, however much it comes laced with the bracing black comedy that keeps Young Adult ever biliously on the boil.

Patrick Wilson in Jason Reitman's Young AdultTheron's Mavis is a young adult novelist at the end of her personal and professional rope, an erstwhile winner of the "best hair" competition in high school who since then has gone to the big city (Minneapolis in this case) and made her mark. All would be well were Mavis's literary renown not beginning to hit the skids, a downturn that is nothing compared to the dead end of a love life marked out as Mavis nears 40 by one-night stands. All it takes is news from Mercury, the small town where she grew up, that erstwhile flame Buddy (Patrick Wilson, pictured above) is both married and has had a baby, and Mavis packs her dog into her bag and hits the road. In this instance, or so she reckons, perhaps you can go home again. And Buddy, Mavis has decided, belongs to her.

What ensues is less Mavis's reckoning with her past than with herself, vanity and self-delusion peeled away in telling counterpoint to the facial slap that Mavis requires before she can attempt to lure Buddy back into her warped and damaged orbit. Such stories need a gay best friend except that this film's candidate for that post - Patton Oswalt's career-defining Matt - turns out against the odds not to be gay, even if a mistaken assumption on exactly that topic led to a grievous hate crime against him many years before. And so it is that "a piece of work" (Mavis) meets "a piece of shit" (Matt) to the gathering consternation of this sleepy Minnesota town. Mercury, let us just say, is indeed rising.

So, too, is the deftness with which Reitman and Cody refashion time-honoured terrain so that the narrative feels almost entirely fresh, notwithstanding the odd niggle at just how it is that someone who so mistreats her own body when it comes to food can also look so glamorous. (On the other hand, Mavis also announces in an especially striking scene at her parents' kitchen table that she just might be an alcoholic.)

Patton Oswalt in Young AdultThe film does indeed lead to the bedroom, but not in the manner one might expect, its undertow of melancholy forever breaking through the barbed veneer. ("Could you walk any slower?" Mavis barks none too sensitively at her crippled pal.) Oswalt (pictured above with Collette Wolfe) is a sensation as a good-natured soul made cruelly alert to life's abrasions to a degree Mavis only comes belatedly to comprehend, and the always excellent Wilson completes the triangle of sorts with a bewilderment that gives off something of the air of Tennessee Williams's Gentleman Caller now grown up and living in married not-quite-bliss. 

And throughout it all, there's Theron, hair snapped into place with the same precision as her lip gloss as she determinedly sallies forth to reel back the man she takes to be rightfully hers. Does she succeed? Best not to say beyond pointing out that Young Adult makes clear from its title just how tricky it can be for even life's apparent success stories to grow up. 

Watch the trailer for Young Adult


Jason Reitman and his Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody have devised a blistering study of sadness as some people's inevitable lot

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Really dark but fun film. Theron is brilliant in the leading role as the twisted and despicable Mavis and there's plenty of bite and a non-conformist ending which should please those who prefer things more sour than sweet!

Love it when actors/actresses step right outside of a Hollywood comfort zone and continue to give the movie-world a nice little shake-up. Charlize Theron just grows and grows in my book. What will she tackle next. Totally besotted. The closest home-grown talent in a similar mold is Charlie Brooks - Janine Molloy in Eastenders, someone who also deserves a great script and a director to put her into orbit.

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