She’s the girl you hated in high school – and she’s back. The local people get the word that she’s back, and so, when they talk about her, they call her the Ex-Prom Queen with the additional qualifier of ‘Bitch’. Yeah, she’s returned to her hometown and she wants her old flame back. Only he’s a HMWAK – which stands for Happily Married with a Kid. Sounds like trouble has arrived in Mercury, Minnesota.
The film is called Young Adult. It stars the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, and was directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. These two were paired up as Director and Writer in the 2007 film – Juno.
Charlize has the role of Mavis Gary, a ghostwriter of romance fiction for teen girls or should I say YA’s, which if you connect this to the title of the film, you get Young Adults. While she’s kind of successful in that field, she hasn’t quite reached an income level that could mean she could shop on Rodeo Drive, or have an apartment on Central Park West in New York. Instead, Mavis lives in a modest Minneapolis apartment with ‘Modest’ being an overstatement. However to Mavis, this was a far better situation than if she was stuck back in the old hometown
The thing about Mavis is that she can’t see beyond her own image. Beauty worked for her in high school. She was the prom queen, she dated the school’s football hero, and in her mind – the sea was required to part if she showed up on its shore.
Mavis was the kind of woman who steamrolled through life – she either overwhelmed you because she was just sooo important, or she never saw you, like you weren’t important, or attractive enough to even be noticed, considered, or thought about. What a gal. She was always right – and you were always wrong. So moments in – we can conclude that this is a one-of-a-kind of a self-centered woman. They broke the mold after she was created. Mavis thought she was a woman born to run, as in run through life always having everything her way. Only for the rest of us – she was a woman who was born to be hated.
So there’s your set up. Usually in this kind of situation – by the time the closing credits are scrolling, the bitch goddess got taken down a peg, got humiliated, or had been knocked off her pedestal by the local folks, who put aside their sense of being threatened, and revved up their inner nobility – and a lesson was learned, the b/g got the message, and everyone lived happily ever after.
That’s usually the case – but it doesn’t work out that way this time. Mavis is never going to get the message. One can surmise that she’ll remain a savage – dangerously dumb and un-repentent about herself. But not so much that she becomes a cartoon queen of cruelty. No – Charlize, Reitman, and Cody have imbued her with a myopic sense of self. She can’t see beyond her own aura – the one she imagines, and the one that is like an invisible force field. This field keeps people away, and keeps ‘goodness’, if any exists within Mavis, locked up and bottled up inside her – repressed now and forever – pending further notice.
The object of Mavis’s lust is Buddy Slade played by Patrick Wilson. He’s a nice guy, and he loves his wife. But he is somewhat vulnerable when Mavis begins her assault on the beachhead of his marriage. But he quickly marshals his common sense, so he rebuffs, refuses, and reacts in the negative. Watch for his expressions as he gradually gets the message that the message he’s sending to Mavis is the message that she’s not getting at all.
Patton Oswalt is on hand as the local good guy. He was damaged a long time ago – in fact, he was beaten up by town toughs back when he was in high school because they thought he was gay. He wasn’t – but he’s been badly disabled from that attack. He had the locker next to Mavis back in high school. Does she remember him – not at first – but then she recalls the incident and remembers him as The Hate-Crime Guy.
So Mavis is on one end of the spectrum – she’s the Prom Queen both then and to this day – she’s still the prom queen. She got all the attention she could handle. Patton’s Matt is on the other end of the spectrum – 180 degrees opposite. He was the geek, the nerd, and he was never noticed. Buddy is the middle. That threesome is surrounded by the shocked and often mystified locals; and beyond that outer circle, are we folks in the audience. We are the like the folks who attended the gladiator games – both hoping for blood, and horrified when see that Mavis Gary isn’t going to get what she deserves. But Theron is so good we can’t turn our backs to her.
The film has entertainment value despite the fact that the lead is despicable and despite that the ending is neither pat nor happy. Kudos to Charlize for taking this role. The film’s tagline says – Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up. So much so, that you are actively rooting against Mavis. Tough work for an actress. But the way Charlize handles this role – she’s definitely worth seeing again.
2 thoughts on “Young Adult”
Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review.
My favorite part about the movie (aside from the hilarious baby naming party scene) was Patton Oswalt. He was solid throughout the whole movie and was Mavis’ only grounding factor. He was the one who told her how it was, wasn’t afraid to stand up to the hot former prom queen. I thought it was the best I have ever seen out of Oswalt, might start seeing more dramatic roles out of him in the future.