Movies: "Young Adult" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Young Adult"
Movies: "Young Adult"


Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a mess.  The ghost writer of a once-popular series of young adult high school romance novels, she’s divorced, now living only with a neglected dog in a Minneapolis high rise, drinking herself into oblivion every night and neglecting her work on the final book in the series.


Then she gets the email that will change everything.  Her former high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson of “Morning Glory” and “Watchmen”) and his wife have had a baby.  She suddenly imagines that he is somehow trapped by his new family back in her small home town of Mercury, Minnesota -- and she sets off to rekindle the flame and free him from bondage.


Instead of going to her parents’ home, she checks into a motel and begins her stealth campaign.  But on her first night out, she runs into a guy who remembers her all too well from high school.  Back then, Matt (comedian Patton Oswalt, terrific here) was permanently crippled by a brutal beating at the hands -- and crowbars-- of some jocks who mistakenly thought he was gay.  


“You’re the hate crime guy,” exclaims Mavis, finally recalling the person whose locker was right next to hers for four years.  Her callow obliviousness knows no bounds: when she and Matt run into her cousin Mike (John Forest), who’s in a wheelchair after a high school car crash, Mavis complains that his accident ruined her Sweet 16 party.


Despite Matt’s best advice, Mavis pursues her goal of reuniting with Buddy, a decent guy who loves his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reason, Esme in the “Twilight” series) and baby daughter.  (Mavis constantly refers to the child as “it.”)  She’s falling off a cliff, but doesn’t realize that what she’s trying to do is relive her glory days as a prom queen.


“Young Adult” was written by Diablo Cody, whose first effort, “Juno,” gave us the winsome unwed mother played by Ellen Page.  Mavis is something else entirely: a boozy narcissist trying to return to what she thinks were her happiest days.  Charlize Theron is terrific in this role, still attractive and using her looks to charm her former boyfriend, but so insecure that she’s constantly pulling out her hair.  


She’s aided by a good cast, including Jill Eikenberry (“An Unmarried Woman”) as Mavis’s mother, Mary Beth Hurt (“Interiors”) as Buddy’s mom and newcomer Louisa Krause (also on screen this month in “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) as a motel desk clerk.


The movie was directed by Jason Reitman, who helmed “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” and was shot by Eric Steelberg, also of “Juno” and “500 Days of Summer.”  Its ’90’s soundtrack reflects the decade in which Mavis and Buddy has their fling.  “Young Adult” probably won’t win Diablo Cody a second Oscar -- but Theron may just get a nomination.  She won an Oscar in 2003 for playing a serial killer in “Monster.”  Now she’s playing another monster.


"Young Adult" is rated R.  I give it a B-Plus.

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