“Guys like me are born to like girls like you.”
If you’re one of those guys – someone who finds unrelenting asshole women irresistible – Young Adult will leave you with a new crush. If you’re a socially normal human being who knows how destructive an asshole can be, Young Adult will leave you with a new on-screen enemy.
I fall in the middle.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) could not be further from likable and sympathetic, and that’s the whole point. The young adult writer, not the most subtle character trait, is never glorified as being a “cool smokin’ bitch,” something that she only starts off as. As the film progresses, the beautiful womanchild is stripped down to something so ugly, unappealing, hopeless, and, in some uncomfortable ways, a little relatable.
Throughout the film, it’s hinted that Mavis is not only stunted in age – with her still living life like the high school girl we all knew – but also in emotions. This is someone who cannot connect with people on nearly any level. Perhaps she once did, though. This isn’t someone who’s always been a socially destructive monster or a big alcoholic. A simple photo of Mavis at her wedding shows she was perhaps once a happy person, who she probably ruined, or her husband destroyed, possibly causing her to enter the emotionally and socially destructive state she’s in.
It’s ideas such as these that solidify this as Diablo Cody‘s most subtle and accomplished work. She’s a writer with her own voice, something that can overtake the film itself, as shown more than a few times in Jennifer’s Body. Here, Cody’s voice, while present, is at its most invisible. When a character says something witty, it’s the character saying something witty, not the person who wrote it down.
With Young Adult, Cody and director Jason Reitman have made the anti-cliche asshole character study. This is not a film about a character returning home and finding her long lost heart. The greatest discovery Mavis makes is losing her obliviousness, and even that change is up for interpretation. Her horrible actions take a toll on her, and her solitary life threatens to become a permanent condition. When Mavis stares at her beat up Mini Cooper midway through the film, she’s really seeing herself…or she’s just thinking, “I should fix my car.”
When the protagonist’s biggest goal in life is stealing her ex-boyfriend, played by Patrick Wilson, away from his new family, it’s obvious Mavis is not someone with high or respectable life goals. Reitman and Cody never glorify her actions, and they make her acts slowly and effectively go from funny to downright sad.
It’s no real surprise Young Adult didn’t go on the festival circuit – it’s not a film for everyone. This is somewhat of a love-it-or-hate-it film. More than a few people will be violently turned off by Mavis – and in turn will hate the movie for its character – so kudos to Reitman, Cody, and Theron for crafting such a great bastard-ess, who you’ll either feel empathy, like myself, or uncontrollable hatred for.
The Upside: Theron makes a chaotic narcissist empathetic; Patton Oswalt adds real heart and relatable sadness to the film; Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s most accomplished work; uncomfortable when it needs to be; doesn’t glorify assholes; Mavis never goes through a major cathartic transformation; despite me mostly discussing the drama of the film, it’s pretty hilarious as well.
The Downside: Again, Mavis being a “young adult” writer is a little obvious, but that barely goes beyond being a simple nitpick.
On the Side: Please don’t leave a comment saying “Juno blows” or “Diablo Cody? What type of name is that?”