Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Young Adult is the story of a 30-something ghost-writer for teen novels who learns that her old high school boyfriend has a new life as a family man. Returning to her hometown to reclaim her ex-boyfriend, she befriends a man whom she tormented back in high school. The film marks a reunion between Reitman and Cody following their 2007 collaboration with Juno as their new film explores a woman on the verge of a meltdown. Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, and the voice of Reitman regular J.K. Simmons. Young Adult is a biting yet witty character-study from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) has just received news about her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) as he just became a father for the first time. For Mavis, she decides to return to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota with her dog Dolce and a mixtape that Buddy made years ago hoping to reclaim him from his new life. Staying at a hotel, she goes to a local bar where she meets an old schoolmate in Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who wonders why she’s back. The two start to befriend each other despite Matt’s unpleasant memories about high school as she reveals why she’s back though Matt doesn’t think Mavis’ plan to reclaim Buddy is a good idea.
After finally contacting Buddy, the two meet as she later meets Buddy’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) where Mavis is surprised by Buddy’s new domestic lifestyle. Still thinking that Buddy is unhappy where the two later met at a sports bar that Matt works at where Beth’s band played a song that Mavis had in her mixtape. Things get worse when Mavis encounters her parents whom she hadn’t bothered to contact as she ends up having a meal with them as she is reminded about her recent divorce. With news about her teen novel series that she’s ghost-written being cancelled, though she is currently writing another one, she hangs out with Matt as she reveals another plan to win Buddy over. Instead, she is forced to face the realities around her as well as the issues that she’s dealing with.
For anyone that thinks that high school were the best years of their life because they were popular and were able to have great skin and such would often face tribulations where it becomes harder for them to grow up. For a woman as delusional and immature like Mavis Gray, it’s only part of who she is as she uses her immaturity and high school memories to ghost-write a very popular series of teen novels. Still, she is a mess as she faces the cancellation of her series while just going through a divorce and lead a life that isn’t very exciting. She watches bad reality TV and drinks big liter bottles of Diet Coke to maintain her figure while only having her small dog Dolce to keep her company. When she receives news about her ex-boyfriend’s family life, she has this fantasy that she can save him from that dull world and reclaim him.
The Mavis Gray character is something that is very different from some of the character that director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody had previous explored. Mavis is a really un-likeable person for the fact that she’s very immature and has no grasp in reality for what she is about to do this guy who has definitely moved on. Returning to the home that she despises, she would befriend an old schoolmate in whom she remembered for being beaten up in school because he was accused of being gay when he really wasn’t. For the Matt Freehauf character, he sees something in Mavis where the two share their common bond for their hatred of their hometown as well as into why people seem so content into living a town where it’s pretty boring.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay is, so far, the best thing she’s done as there’s a new maturity to her writing in the way she explores the banality of American suburbia as well as this woman who is definitely on the verge of collapse. While Mavis does do a lot of despicable things and doesn’t really seem to care about anyone except herself. There is something about her that makes her pitiful for the fact that people do want to help her though they don’t seem to do it in the right way. Only that Matt Freehauf character seems to get her despite the fact that he doesn’t really like as he knows she is having a hard time trying to move on even though she doesn’t treat him well either.
While the script has a lot of humor that is witty and sarcastic in the style of Cody’s writing including the word “Ken-Taco-Hut”. There is a more cerebral element to the writing as Cody also gets a chance to tackle the world of teen novels where she creates a narration of Mavis writing the next novel that pretty much delve into the material that Mavis writes. There’s a true complexity to the writing as well as a shock value to what Cody brings as the film’s screenplay is definitely the major highlight of the film.
Jason Reitman’s direction is definitely engaging for the way he presents the film with lots of wide shots of the small towns shown in the film as it’s shot on location in parts of upstate New York. While there’s not a lot of big technical moments as Reitman chooses to go for a very straightforward approach to framing scenes in humorous and dramatic moments. Still, he does create some surprises as he opens the film with this 10-minute sequence of what Mavis’ life is like before she returns home. Then the credits appears as Mavis drives home to the tune of Teenage Fanclub’s The Concept from their 1991 landmark album Bandwagonesque.
The film has a very playful feel to it throughout the entirety of the first two acts though it does get more dramatic by the time the third act rolls around. Still, Reitman chooses to underplay the drama while its big moment where Mavis just loses it at a party is more restrained than it is expected despite Mavis’ uncontrollable behavior. The film also has this sense of intended blandness to the way a suburban place like Mercury, Minnesota looks like as it looks like every other small town in America. The locations do play as a character there’s a wonderful quaintness to it but also a place where anyone that’s lived there long enough might want to leave. Overall, Reitman creates a truly solid and witty film that explores a woman’s meltdown as she returns to the place that she had left a long time ago.
Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does a nice job with the film’s photography where a lot of the film’s look is straightforward though the coloring does get a little de-saturated as it progresses to emphasize Mavis’ troubled state of mind as she would unravel in the course of the film. Editor Dana E. Glauberman does an excellent job with the editing to play up Mavis’ unraveling in the course of the film as it features some great montages of her fixing her hair or the opening credits scene while a lot of the editing is very straightforward.
Production designer Kevin Thompson, along with set decorator Carrie Stewart and art director Michael Ahern, do some very good work with the set pieces created such as the bar where Mavis meets Matt along with the sports bar and Buddy‘s home to emphasize the suburban world that Mavis dislikes yet gravitates towards to. Costume designer David C. Robinson does a terrific job with the costumes from the sweatpants and t-shirt to emphasize the drab look of Mavis along with the glamorous dresses that she later wears to try and win over Buddy. Sound editors Perry Robertson, Scott Sanders, and Warren Shaw do some fine work with the sound from the raucous atmosphere of the bars that Mavis and Matt hang out to the way music sounds and is cut off at through her Mavis’ car.
The score work of Rolfe Kent is superb for the jazz-folk music pieces created for the film to emphasize its quirky tone as well as Mavis‘ unique behavior while also providing low-key yet somber pieces for its dramatic moments. Music supervisor Linda Cohen does a fantastic job with assembling the soundtrack that includes lots of 90s alternative rock cuts from acts like Cracker, the Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, 4 Non Blondes, and many covers performed by Mateo Massina of songs by Pearl Jam and other 90s acts. The only song not from the 90s is played is an obscure Diana Ross song in the closing credits that emphasize the trouble of growing up which is suitable for what the film is about.
The casting by Jessica Kelly and Suzanne Smith is outstanding as they create what is truly a very memorable ensemble cast filled with people in some very standout roles. Among them is Mary Beth Hurt as Buddy’s mother, Richard Bekins and Jill Eikenberry as Mavis’ parents, Hettienne Park as a Minneapolis friend of Mavis, Louisa Krause as the hotel front desk girl, John Forest as Mavis’ wheelchair-bound cousin who annoys both Mavis and Matt, and J.K. Simmons in a voice cameo as Mavis’ boss. Collette Wolfe is excellent in a small but very crucial performance as Matt’s sister Sandra who idolizes Mavis despite her flaws. Elizabeth Reaser is great as Buddy’s wife Beth who tries to be very kind to Mavis while being very content as a mom and drummer for a 90s cover band. Patrick Wilson is pretty good as Buddy where even though it’s a bland kind of role, Wilson makes Buddy into a likeable, normal kind of guy.
Patton Oswalt is magnificent as Matt Freehauf, an old schoolmate of Mavis who hasn’t gotten over high school as he reluctantly becomes Mavis’ ally despite warning her that will backfire on her. It’s a dramatic but light-humored performance from Oswalt as he also has to walk with a cane as he becomes this one guy that really understands Mavis and pities her. Finally, there’s Charlize Theron in a tremendous yet fearless performance as Mavis Gray. Theron brings a lot of humor to her character as a woman that is obviously immature in the way she speaks and how she often picks at her hair. Yet, there’s also a sadness to this woman who can’t really get herself together as Theron makes this very un-likeable character human as it’s definitely one of the best performances Theron has given.
Young Adult is a brilliant yet jabbing comedy-drama from Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Featuring fantastic performances from Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, the film definitely serves as a real turning point for both Reitman and Cody as they take an un-likeable character and make her into someone real and sympathetic. While it may not have the quirky humor of Juno or the heavy-drama of Up in the Air, the film does have a confrontational tone without being too grand. In the end, Young Adult is a remarkable film from Jason Reitman and company.
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