Young Adult: directed by Jason Reitman; written by Diablo Cody
In my gut I feel that, yes, Young Adult is a leap forward for Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, both individually and together as a team even as I almost immediately feel the need to qualify that statement by saying that the movement forward is more pronounced in the former than the latter. I should probably begin on a note of full disclosure because unlike what I’d assume to be the majority of people turning up to see Young Adult the presence which gave me pause was not the sometimes maligned Diablo Cody but the director Jason Reitman. Cody is, at best, hit or miss but with Reitman I’ve never been specifically enthralled by his directing choices, on occasion I’ ve even loathed them. And, it’s not so much that it made me worrisome about the film, because form the little I could tell Young Adult seemed like a departure from the oeuvre of Reitman at the very least (although, how much could you assess of his oeuvre from three feature films? But I digress). I approached Young Adult with my antenna down because, for the most part, I was just curious to see how Charlize Theron would play out in a lead role since other than her work in Monster I find her a bit effortful in her lead roles (Aeon Flux, North Country, The Burning Plain, Hancock).
So, Young Adult… it’s a holistically more put together venture than Juno (the two's last collaboration), at least relatively. For example, it’s more in tune with its lead character and not particularly liable to forget her cute moments with the supporting cast, even though this means that to some extent the supporting players here come off a bit shallow. Moreover, the situation here – although the premise is a bit WTF – comes off as decidedly more logical, things play out as you’d expect them to, people speak as you’d imagine they would. And that’s a big plus. If we’re to take Reitman’s last feature into consideration, curiously, also about a somewhat deluded protagonist you’d notice that there’s no garish moment where the status quo is flipped and the character turns into someone we must root for…so positive again.
And the whole thing is a good experience but it probably rivals We Need to talk about Kevin (a strange analogy, I know) as that film where the divide between good and very good is so strident. Because, it should be…or perhaps I oversell it – it couldbe something particularly special. A self-deluded, very likely alcoholic, definitely and defiantly too, unhinged woman makes her way back to the small-town she despises because a taunting photograph of an old-flame’s new-born baby becomes a siren announcing said boyfriend’s degradation into a life in matrimonial abyss. It is her job to save him. This woman is Mavis Gary, as pretty as she is emotionally crippled – a ghost writer for a young adult series, and the type of woman who sleeps with the TV on, guzzles litres of soda and alcohol, and would not be averse to looking at a baby and saying “g-roooossssss”. Arrested development? Yes, but, not in the most obvious of ways for Charlize plays this girl-woman as a curious creation. Not like the female counterpart of the man-child characters in, say, Stepbrothers. Its logic is sounder – Mavis’ unlikely “friendship” with everyman Matt who was a victim of a not-a-hate-crime is a surrogate for the audience. Like us he is both disgusted, and affronted by Mavis’ actions but just as enthralled by them (he doesn’t do much in the way to stolidly prevent her rampage).
*Yes, more thoughts - I do feel like a bit of a curmudgeon for judging a film on what it could have been and not what it actually is. I still can't get over some annoying tics of Reitman (for example, almost every scene in Matt's room is directed in such a lazily flip way, or scenes which should play out as jokes just land there because Reitman seems much too much laidback; or the scenes with Mavis putting on her makeup which show - yes pretty girl needs to work to look pretty - but do nothing to make this character anymore complex). And, then, I do like this one - my favourite of the movies I've graded B (all 2011 films, thus far), or maybe a really low B+....*shrugs*