Saturday, January 21, 2012

Young Adult ★ ★★ ★

Release Date: Australia 19th January, 2012, Other Countries

In watching “Young Adult”, directed and produced by Jason Reitman, there was some personal satisfaction for me, in the disaster that had become Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron—“Monster,” “The Road”) life.  
In being one of the unattractive skinny girls at school, I worked out that to survive you need a plan.  There was a boy in my class, surprisingly popular considering he was overweight.  There was one simple reason.   He was funny.
So, armed with humour, two shiny long haired popular girls became my friends.  Thus, began my popularity by association. When the miracle of boobs occurred, I ended up tall and curvaceous and with the most gorgeous boy in the school as a boyfriend. The best part though, was that I got to keep the personality.
Mavis lives a lonely, messy life, enjoying one-night stands she instantly regrets, in an apartment that borders on squalor. The series of young adult books, for which she ghost writes, have been cancelled and she has just received an email from her ex-high-school sweetheart with a taunting—for Mavis—picture of his new baby.
 This set up is played beautifully in the opening scenes.  By the time Mavis decides she is going to visit Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson—“The Switch,” “Lakeview Terrace”) to rescue him, from what she imagines is an unhappy marriage, in a town where nobody in their right mind would stay, we already know we are in for a fun ride.
On her first night back, Mavis, hooks up with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt “King of Queens”, “The Informant”), another former classmate who suffered such a beating at school that he now still carries a limp and other handicaps.
Matt becomes her humorous conscience and accomplice as she single-mindedly pursues Buddy, ignoring that he is clearly happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser—“New Moon,” “Eclipse”).
If you like your comedies dark and lacking in redemption, à la “Bad Santa” and “Seinfeld”, then you will laugh at the outrageous behavior of Mavis.  She is never going to grow up or grow a conscience, thus remaining a perpetual young adult.
As Reitman says, “Hopefully Mavis is a character that the audience has never seen on screen before. I think that there’s a long history of male characters that we love to hate but there’s actually very few female characters that we love to hate. It requires great writing and great acting and that’s how I think this movie is going to work because Diablo Cody wrote a hell of a screenplay and Charlize knew exactly how to walk that tonal balance—that very fine razor’s edge of being brutal with people and yet very human and very funny.”
Theron is at her finest here and there would be few actresses who could carry off her cringing, unsympathetic attitude to others without overplaying it.  Theron was helped, literally, to get into character by Mavis’s wardrobe.
Reitman believed that her clothing should reflect the disconnect between Mavis’ public persona and her private self.  “We needed to establish a separation between how Mavis looked at home when nobody was watching vs. the character she created every time she went out. There was almost a sense that she was putting on different weaponry depending on her agenda,” he says.
Theron recalls, “Jason was the one who came up with the concept that she was a slob and that was really helpful for me. I came in wearing a pair of sweats during our second costume fitting. We were looking at photos of a series of possible costumes and I remember this vividly—there was a moment where Jason took a step back from looking at the photos and took a long beat, just staring at my sweatpants. He said something like, ‘Hmmm, get those in a bigger size.’ And that’s pretty much what I wore throughout the movie.  I would just roll them up and shove them in a corner in my car, drive up, put them on and we’d go straight to work.”
My one criticism of this witty, well crafted film is that it needs another twenty minutes.  From the very beginning we are treated to the unexpected indulgences of Mavis’s fantasies and opinions and when the ending arrives that, too, is unexpected in its brevity.
Still any time spent with Mavis is a good time, brief as it is, cringingly honest as it is, and redemptive as it is for all of us high school ugly ducklings.  Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder but in ‘Young Adult’, ugly is made beautifully funny.