06 December 2011

Movie Review: Young Adult--Delightfully Dreary

Director Jason Reitman's latest film is "Young Adult",  a dark comedy starring  Charlize Theron and Patton Oswald.  A big city novelist who had recently divorced decided that she would rekindle a romance with an old beau from her small hometown who is now married with a newborn child.

The film gets its title from Mavis' career as a novelist for a long running "Young Adult" fiction series.  The plot follows the trek of Mavis Gary (Theron), a mean prom queen that got old but had not grown up, who finds that it is not easy to relive her glory days.

Nothing is as it seems as the Mavis' life.   Life in the Minni-Apple (sic) is not as marvelous for Mavis when closely examined.  And her career is being a ghostwriter for a teenage series that is long in the tooth and giving up the ghost.   Mavis decides that what will make everything right is "rescuing" her old beau by stealing him away from his unhappy existence in a hick town.

F. Charlize Theron, R. Patton Oswald
Mavis moves her Gen-X mid-life crisis from Minneapolis back to Mercury, Minnesota. She unknowingly encounters many of her former classmates in their quotidian small town lives, including  Matt Freuhauf (Oswald), the outcast who had a locker next to her throughout high school.   After drinks at the bar, Mavis confided to Matt her hair-brained plan to win back her former flame and they develop an amusingly awkward friendship.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody developed a dark comedy that featured an anti-hero.  While the audience watch the plot unfold with the horrified fascination of witnessing a train wreck, the script does not have telegraphed laugh lines,  is not a paean to a simpler pastoral life nor does it have a deus-ex-machina denouement that ties everything up or is an easy epiphany.

Young Adults explores how high school can shape us and have reverberations throughout life.  Mavis is clearly a conceited prom queen who still basks in her glory years later.  Matt is a fat geek who was scared by a horrific hate crime, but years later he is still a geek who revels in the attention of the popular girl.  Matt's sister still has not outgrown her heroine worship of Mavis, despite witnessing the wreck that she is now.  The bar scene where Mavis and Matt  feel resentment for someone who stole attention from them years ago still smarts.

L Charlize Theron, R. Jason Reitman
Jason Reitman took a chance by directing a dark film which slowly develops that makes an impression as much through atmospherics as with dialogue.  The opening scene makes a clever use of sounds and silence.  Mavis' morning ritual and the conditions of Mavis' high rise condo conveys the film's premise about arrested development.   Cinematographer Eric Steelberg captured a tentative kiss between Mavis and her object of desire Buddy (Patrick Wilson)  with an adept use of shadows that amplifies the obsession and ambiguity of the moment.

Patton Oswald took some care in preparing to portray his crippled character.  Matt is realistically portrayed that neither pans for pathos nor belittles his handicap.  Charlize Theron beautifully portrays a thoroughly flawed woman who can still look marvelous but is messed up.

Despite the funny scenes from the trailer, Young Adults is definitely not a feel good film   The slow development of the plot may challenge some patrons.  It is more thought provoking than offering notable quotable lines.  One catch phrase may be KeTacHut--chew on that.

Young Adults passed up the festival circuit in order to open in theaters on December 16th, so that it is in the minds of Oscar nominators.   While Young Adults is well worth seeing once as a delightfully dreary character study, but it may need help generating big box office from repeat ticket sales.

Actor Patton Oswald signing poster in Wash. DC

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