The writer/director duo who brought us Juno (Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman) are back with another wonderful, intelligent, adult comedy drama called Young Adult. Reitman is also the director of Up in the Air, one of my favourite films of 2009.
Young Adult stars one of my favourite female actors, Charlize Theron, perhaps the most beautiful woman in film today, playing a woman who, incredibly, is actually insecure about her beauty and goes to great lengths to make herself more attractive. Theron plays Mavis, a woman who is not only insecure but also a self-absorbed, depressed alcoholic recovering from a failed marriage and a failing career (as a ghost writer of young adult fiction). Mavis is a very unsympathetic protagonist and only a terrific performance by Theron and a brilliant screenplay by Cody could make this work.
The title of the film refers not to Mavis’s writing but to the fact that she is still living in the world she writes about. She still misses the life she feels she should have had with Buddy, her high school sweetheart. When Mavis discovers he has a new baby girl, she is determined to get him back.
But the first person she meets when she returns to the small town of Mercury, Minnesota is Matt who, as a boy, had the locker next to hers and who no doubt worshipped her, but was completely ignored by her. He was the victim of a hate crime that left him permanently disabled. In a way, Matt is also still living in the past, having given up on a normal meaningful life. But he immediately understands Mavis’s desperation and tries to talk some sense into her, without much success. Patton Oswalt plays Matt to perfection and his character is the key to making Young Adult the excellent film that it is.
Young Adult’s dark intelligent humour and profound wisdom is miles away from most of the popular comedy dramas made today. Among other things, it asks important questions about the meaning of life (if you stayed in your home town, you must be stupid and worthless), about happiness (we made it to Minneapolis -we must be happy) and about self-delusion (we hear how Mavis uses the protagonist in her final book of the young adult series to justify the craziness of what she is doing).
Young Adult gets a solid ***+. My mug is up yet again as 2011 continues to impress.