Ever since “Juno,” people have put Diablo Cody on a pedestal. I liked “Juno.” It was witty, heart-warmingly quirky, had some great characters with take-no-shit attitude and it had a killer soundtrack. Buth then she made “Jennifer’s Body”…. which was, to be frank, shit. It was here that I began to worry that Cody would be a one hit wonder, but she reeled me back in with the ambitious dark comedy series “United States of Tara.” Though in all fairness, she shouldn’t get all the credit for that series — she was just a co-creator and the series also had Steven Spielberg’s golden touch. Now Cody’s writing is back on the big screen with “Young Adult,” another ambitious dark comedy. With the star power of the beautiful and brilliant Charlize Theron, I imagine many are eagerly anticipating seeing this, but don’t. “Young Adult” is a film best watched only if you’re a “Young Dolt.” Ok. Maybe that’s a bit of a harsh assessment and the film does have some great moments and comedic punches. But it also undermines itself at every turn.
“Young Adult” is about a writer named Mavis Gary (Theron) — she happens to ghost write for a series of “Young Adult” genre books. By some accounts, Mavis is a successful woman. She was the most popular girl in school, then she foraged a successful writing career and managed to move out of her podunk hometown to live in the big city. But Mavis is also divorced, living like a slob and struggling to write the final novel in her dying series (teens only care about Young Adult books about vampires now — And thanks “Young Adult” for the obligatory “Twilight” joke with a movie starring a “Twilight” actor). In Mavis’ slump, she’s feeling a bit nostalgic for her own high school years and the announcement of her ex-sweetheart’s newborn sends her on this crazy spiral to win back this married man. Mavis returns to her home and engages in a series of absolutely insane shenanigans to win back this man and along the way, finds an unlikely friendship with another former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt).
As mentioned previously: Charlize Theron is a major appeal factor of this film. The character of Mavis is a drunken slob, psychotic bitch and just so awful it is hard to believe that this could be a real person. If anyone else tried to play Mavis, this film never would have made it to the big screen. But Charlize grounds Mavis and keeps us intrigued enough by the character that we do feel bad for her when we hit the film’s climax and learn the real reason why she is divorced and why her ex-boyfriend’s baby set her off on this crazy spiral, we begin to forgive her ineptitudes and pity her. She really is a broken woman screaming out for help. Only Charlize can make a bitch a person worth caring about (which is also why I’m so excited to see what she does as the evil queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman”).
But as mentioned, previously, the film undermines itself at every turn. After Mavis hits her big meltdown point and moves on from her crazy denial, she seems to begin mending. And she finds her salvation in another broken character — her unlikely friend, Matt. Matt had a rough time in high school and was beaten so brutally, that he is now permanently crippled. Matt was the only one who saw through Mavis’ struggles and tried to be there for her. He points out to her that she is actually a good person — how the high school Mavis never would have given him the time of day when he was out her best. Matt’s a smart guy and has some great wisdom. The film ruins him though by making his bullying problem such a joke. Har har, he’s not really gay. Oh ho, broken penis joke. Completely unnecessary, but I put up with the crappy writing because Patton Oswalt played it so well. So anyways, back to how the film ruined Mavis…so Matt seems to help her repair and gives her a major nugget of wisdom. But then the next morning (and without too many details, so I don’t spoil the endn), Mavis has a chat with Matt’s sister, comes to all the wrong conclusions and basically we’re left with a bitch for life. I guess if there was anything I learned from this movie is that people don’t really change. Thanks “Young Adult” for ruining your own lesson.
As someone in their mid-20s trying to make it “big” in the creative career world, I get how “hard” it is to be a young adult. I have plenty of what the fuck have I done to my life moments and plenty of times I yearn for the past. I wanted to relate and like Mavis. I wanted to like “Young Adult” and laugh as I commiserated with the “woes” of “Young Adult” life. Instead, I was just disappointed. If this is how I feel as young adult, I doubt too many other audience groups will find this overrated film much better.