Despite leaving her small hometown long ago to pursue a career in the big city as a ghost writer for a series of young adult novels, Mavis Gary (Theron) has never moved beyond her glory days at high school. A boozy, messed-up thirty-something who’s recently divorced, she decides on a whim to head back home and win back her ex boyfriend Buddy (Wilson) – even though he’s happily married with a newborn baby. Trying to help her is former classmate Matt (Oswalt), someone who’s as keen to forget his high school days as Mavis is to relive them…
With Juno, filmmaker Jason Reitman and stripper-come-blogger-come-screenwriter Diablo Cody gifted us a sunny, smart-mouthed indie gem where self-aware teens spoke like adults. With Young Adult, their second collaboration, they give us a darker, less-talky piece where an unaware, self-deceptive ‘adult’ sees the world like a teen. Despite boasting far less in the way of fizzy, sardonic one-liners, however, it’s just as impressive a piece of work – if not more so. Not really a ‘comedy’ as such, it’s a perceptive, low-key character study with a black sense of humour.
As mentioned, it’s a piece of work, but it’s also about a piece of work. The ultimate Queen Been bitch, Mavis Gary is one of those people who clings to her glory days with a startling amount of self-delusion. Toxic, self-absorbed and generally quite horrid, she’s unlikeable and unsypathetic on almost every level, but the film’s success is that she remains a tragic, compelling character that we pity rather than hate. This is, in large part, thanks to a fantastic, arguably career-best, turn from Charlize Theron, who plays brilliantly with Patrick Wilson (her now-settled ex) and Patton Oswalt (a geeky schoolmate she can’t even remember). Both of whom are well-cast and excellent. The ending (or anti-ending) will polarise some viewers, but it’s a brave, convention-fingering climax which stays true to its central character. Some people never learn…
With Juno, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody gifted us a sunny gem where self-aware teens spoke like adults, but with Young Adult they give us a darker piece where an unaware, self-deceptive ‘adult’ sees the world like a teen. Another brilliant, well-written collaboration.