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With: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Rebecca Hart, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, Brian McElhaney, Hettienne Park
Written by: Diablo Cody
Directed by: Jason Reitman
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 94
Date: 12/09/2011

Young Adult (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Grownup Pains

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After four years, the team behind Juno (2007) -- writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman -- reunite for a new movie, Young Adult. This sour movie will probably not get the same kind of happy buzz that Juno did, but it is notable for one thing: it seemingly does not care if people like its main character or not, which in itself is somewhat refreshing.

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a nearly-anonymous writer on a popular, but waning, young adult book series. After a divorce, she returns to her small hometown in Minnesota, with the half-baked idea of scooping up her old high school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Unfortunately, Buddy is married, with a new baby; his wife is Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), the cute and cheerful drummer in an all-mom band called Nipple Confusion.

Buddy is casually friendly toward Mavis, though she takes his every little move as a sign of his passionate and eternal devotion to her. While she waits and plots, Mavis drinks a great deal, and she runs into an old classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), in a bar. In high school, the tubby Matt was a victim of a hate crime: some jocks decided he was gay (he's not) and beat him senselessly and permanently. He now walks with a cane.

In an ordinary movie, Mavis would learn a lesson and get together -- however improbably -- with Matt. And she and Matt do at least share a moment together, but the ultimate point of this movie is that Mavis believes she's better than all these small town schmucks because she lives a glamorous life in the big city. And she may be right. The movie culminates in a conversation with Matt's sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe). Sandra worships Mavis and reiterates everything that Mavis already believes about herself. The information is a revelation and Mavis triumphantly (more or less) leaves town.

And so... what are Cody and Reitman up to here? Is this merely an exercise in unlikable characters? Is it a treatise on small town people, whom Sandra says are all "stupid and fat"? If so, then why is the married couple with the new baby shown to be very happy, the way they normally would be in any other movie?

I can't help thinking that the filmmakers are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Above all, they want their characters to be cool. But to be cool, a character can't try to be cool. They have to be cool effortlessly. Mavis is cool because she's not a typical movie character, but she's also uncool because, frankly, she's psychotic. And she leaves the movie much as she entered it. She has given up on her fruitless pursuit of an unattainable lover, but she has not solved the underlying problem.

Reitman is one for messages and lessons in his movies, which also include Thank You for Smoking (2005) and Up in the Air (2009) in addition to Juno, but Young Adult doesn't seem to have any. I confess I was more interested in watching Mavis during her private moments -- of which there are many -- than her interactions with other characters. I liked her when she woke up, grungy and hung over, and shuffled out of her hotel room with no makeup or effort. Maybe that's the message? Be yourself? Appreciate what you have?

In any case, Young Adult is a very strange little movie, almost at odds with itself, and out of place in the universe. It's not entirely satisfying, but it is interesting.
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