$8.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50
Oscar Wilde is alleged to have said that most people criticized his plays by preferring “Earnest” as in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Scribe Diablo Cody has the same problem with “Juno,” her breakthrough hit. “Juno” is a tough act to follow. That said, “Young Adult,” a comedy which opens stateside in December, is not by any means a bad picture. It stars the formidable Charlize Theron as a high-school homecoming queen, now a ghost writer of serialized teen fiction who has moved from a small Minnesota town to Minneapolis, failed at a marriage, and ended up as a lush, albeit one who does not look like a lush.
Like another current release, Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” “Young Adult” moves from the surreal to the absurd. Unlike “Carnage”, “Adult” does it not in one continuous movement but in fits and starts, alternating one genre for the other. It works. Kudos go to helmer Jason Reitman, who also collaborated with Cody on “Juno.”
The principal characters, in addition to 38-year-old Mavis Gary (Theron) are
Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, a guy crippled in high school by a gang of jocks who thought he was gay; Patrick Wilson as Buddy Slade, Mavis’ high-school boyfriend; Elizabeth Reaser as Beth, his wife; and Collette Wolfe as Sandra Freehauf, a registered nurse and sister of Matt, with whom she lives.
The 94 minute pic, which is by no means too long, could stand cutting the final scene. The payoff comes in the antipenultimate scene. Penultimate scene is icing on the cake. Said final scene, between Mavis and Sandra, merely confuses pic’s dénouement. Unlike “Juno,” Cody uses an old cinematic device to explain an otherwise inexplicable plot: She saves pic’s main revelation for its end — or at least close to its end.
Cody’s dialogue is typically witty. Theron turns in a tour de force as the dissipated high-school homecoming queen who ends every night on a bender and still looks fabulous. She is one of the few actors of star caliber who can go unrecognized in almost any role. She almost channels her character’s persona.
Oswalt gets his share of punch lines and sarcasm, which he delivers with biting grace. J.K. Simmons, who played Juno’s dad, is underused as a voice on the phone in the role of Mavis’ boss.
Plot is straightforward. Mavis returns to her hometown after a succession of one-night stands and benders to reclaim Buddy Slade, her long-lost love, to the Christening of whose first child she has just been invited. If one knows their back story, the invitation would appear to be a tad out of place, but one doesn’t, at least not yet. Set aside the socially inappropriate premise. This is a movie, remember?
It is quickly revealed that Mavis was the totally coolest chick in high school, the girl that all the other girls hated and all the guys wanted. She was also totally full of herself. Being full of herself has since turned into an offensive defense.
Once back in her hometown, Mavis encounters Freehauf, now manager of a sports bar and secret distiller (in his garage) of knock-off whiskies. The two of them quickly hit it off. She needs his hooch.
Mavis comes on to Buddy so strongly that she makes a fool of herself. She does this in front of his wife, who, it is later revealed, is so secure in her marriage that she lets Mavis get away with it. Unknown to Mavis, Beth actually pities her.
A chance encounter with her parents makes for one of pic’s most delectable digressions into the absurd, but it’s really there to move the plot along by illuminating some back story.
Then comes the Christening. Mavis primps for it in the painstaking way that Alfred Hitchcock prepared his story boards. She makes her move on Buddy, who is more than happy in his new life. He shoots her down.
Pic’s dénouement comes in the form of a humiliating (for Mavis) and utterly inappropriate to the occasion confession to the assembled guests as to what she wished her life with Buddy had been. Although drunk as a skunk, she manages to convey explicitly the life-changing event that triggered their breakup. She has spent the intervening two decades running from it. It is at this moment that Cody and Reitman prevent “Young Adult” from descending into bathos, thanks to Mavis’ horrifically stained dress and some surreal dialogue from the Christening guests. It’s no mean feat.
Here is the problem: Mavis’ issue is one that has confronted women from the beginning of time. It is not easy to overcome, but it is also not an excuse to turn one’s life into a mission to erase it. Cody uses the ultimate Mavis-Sandra scene to drive that point home. It does not need to be driven. Between the Christening and the Mavis-Sandra scene, however, there lurks a brief interlude which in part accounts for pic’s “R” rating. Anyone in the audience who has a brain will know it is coming, but it still delivers when it arrives.
Tech credits are competent. Dana E. Glauberman’s cutting is spot on — other than for the directorial choices your critic mentioned above. Kevin Thompson’s production design is totally believable. Lensing by Eric Steelberg leaves little to be desired. Rolfe Kent’s soundtrack got kudos from an audience of critics, but your critic found the sound recording of the music less than up to par.
Pic probably deserves its “R” rating. Some parents and children will have issues with alcohol use, sexual situations, and Theron’s nearly naked body — at which filmmakers managed to poke fun — talk about accomplishments!
—30—Young Adult on Netflix