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Young Adult - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Young Adult
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Audiences don't seem to be connecting with Young Adult to nearly the same degree as critics, which is too bad. This is a comedy of surprising depth, thanks to writer Diablo Cody at her finest to date.

Cody has come a long way from Juno (2007), which, although also excellent, was a little enamored with its own quirky cleverness. "Hyper-scripted" was a nice word for it, and the reason it was easy to see why it didn't work for everyone. Young Adult clearly doesn't work for everyone either -- by all indications, it works for fewer -- but there's no sense of smug self-satisfaction with its own cleverness, even though it's actually terribly clever.

Charlize Theron is Mavis Gary, the most popular girl in high school who left a small Minnesota town to make it big in the big city of Minneapolis -- as a young adult fiction writer (hence the title). Her existence in her high-rise apartment is far from as exciting as her hometown friends and acquaintances imagine it to be, unless they think waking up every morning to large chugs of Diet Coke is exciting. Mavis gets a baby announcement from her old flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), and begins to obsess over him, to a rather unhealthy degree. As she says later when Buddy can't believe her advances and points out that he's married, "We can beat this thing together!"

At its core, Young Adult is kind of depressing for a comedy. Mavis is never likable, never was likable, and never will be. There's a great scene where she seems on the verge of a breakthrough, but a young woman who looked up to her in high school, and evidently still does, manages inadvertently to enable her into perpetuating her state of arrested development. Many of the people in Mavis's life do this, in fact. On a brief visit home, she blurts out to her parents, "You know, I think I might be an alcoholic." Anyone with half a brain can see that she is. Her parents blithely dismiss the idea and pass her some breakfast.

Mavis finds herself hanging out with Matt (an excellent Patton Oswalt), unable to recognize him as the guy who had a locker right next to hers all through high school but recognizes him as "the hate crime guy." A bunch of jocks who thought he was gay attacked him and put him in the hospital for three months. Now he walks with a crutch. You get the sense that the one reason Mavis is okay with hanging out with him even now is that she doesn't deem him important enough to be self-conscious around. She doesn't pity him; she uses him. He's someone to drink with, which ultimately makes up for the fact that Matt is the only person being direct with her about how crazy she's being.

A whole lot of Young Adult is spent in awkward anticipation for something that's just going to make you uncomfortable. A climactic scene at a baby naming party becomes a pleasant surprise when it's more dramatic for the audience than it is awkward, although it's still certainly uncomfortable for Mavis. It does, however, perhaps reveal a bit of insight as to why this movie is not a box office smash: it's got plenty of genuinely funny moments, but it's far from a laugh riot. If you can get over that expectation, though, you'll find a truly unique story that is almost shocking in how engaging it is, given how horrible Mavis is.

Much of that can be credited to Charlize Theron, who yet again does an exceptional job -- one notably matched in excellence by Patton Oswalt. If I had one true complaint, it would be that Theron is actually too beautiful to be a 37-year-old woman living life the way Mavis does. Theron's got the living-like-a-slob down pat, but you'd think a woman who lives off Diet Coke and junk food would not look that fit and healthy. Oswalt, on the other hand, looks just like the fat geek his character is supposed to be.

That aside, Young Adult is infused with nuance and shows how Diablo Cody has matured as a writer. It doesn't hurt that it was also directed with subtle precision by Jason Reitman (who also directed Juno). This is a movie that doesn't quite deliver what you expect, but what it offers instead is actually something better.

Patton Oswalt and Charlize Theron meet in the middle of arrested development in YOUNG ADULT.

Overall: A-
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