Movie Review: Young Adult
Young Adult was a bit of a surprise. Expected to like it much more than I did – with all the feminist overtones and multi-dimensional, flawed female character rumors swirling about on the interwebs. This was the second pairing of screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, their previous venture being the much beloved Juno.
Charlize Theron is phenomenal in this role. She swaggers across the screen in her Uggs and sweatpants, chomping up the scenery with her ice-cold glare and washing it down with giant swigs of Diet Coke. Her moments of extreme cattiness, minus the awkward attempts at seduction are gleeful rather than off-putting. I would watch an entire movie of mean Mavis and love every minute of it. I’m sure that’s wrong, but I don’t care.
Other good bits? Matt and Mavis had chemistry. Patton Oswalt is such a lovable curmudgeon. While they glowed together in their general dislike of the world, I would hate to be drunk in a bar with them. Their level of bitter and hate is best viewed from a distance.
I was also thrilled by the little scenes with Mavis planning out her outfits, packing/unpacking, getting mani/pedis, putting on her hair and makeup. Those simple daily ritualistic acts that often define the female gender but are usually never displayed in films except for comedic effect. These scenes had a completely different tone. For Mavis it was like putting on a suit of armor to head out into battle. The calculation and effort with which she went about it was strangely compelling.
Unfortunately, we are largely treated to small, shining moments of mean Mavis and then long, extended periods of uncomfortable tension. Awkward scenes of wooing a clearly disinterested and skeeved out ex-boyfriend. Another horrible scene around her parents dinner table where she waxes effusive about her high school days and then promptly announces she’s an alcoholic. Her parents react with blank stares. Oh poor BBZ. Mavis is lacking a serious amount of love in her life.
We’re all meant to sympathize or connect with this character, but I found her to be genuinely despicable, while simultaneously taking joy in some of her tamer exploits. The thing with most great flawed protagonists is that there are also some decent, humane elements to connect you with the characters. I didn’t see much about Mavis to like. Even Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher had some moments where she obviously gave a crap about others.
Mavis, at 37, is unable to advance beyond her own limited self interests. As a character study she is intriguing, but as the plot of an entire film – it is less than inspiring material. Why should we care about Mavis when no one else does? When she clearly doesn’t care about herself or anyone else? It would be a bad argument to classify her as a charming anti-heroine because of her poor behavior. Being a bitch only makes for good film fare when taken in moderation. It also makes your supposedly flawed, realistic character more of a study in mental illness via alcoholism and narcissism.
I loved this film for what it did, what it almost did and what it tried to do. It tried to make that mean girl from High School a human being instead of a caricature, and it almost succeeded. Everyone knows in order to remain a lovable, relatable anti-hero – the man-child or depressed alcoholic needs to have some kind of redemptive arch. But there was far more anti to this hero and she never showed any real self-awareness or self-knowledge.
An example to all those Young Adults out there of what not to be when you grow up.
Bechdel Test: ”Young Adult” features more than two female characters with names who converse about something other than men and therefore DOES PASS the women test, DOES NOT PASS the men test and does not feature more than two minority characters who have names, and speak to one another about something other than white people so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.