Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Young Adult

After far too long of a delay I finally had time to go see the movie "Young Adult." The tagline for which reads, "Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up."

The movie stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a role she plays impeccably. Mavis, a young adult ghost writer has hit a creative roadblock while finishing the final book of a now floundering series. It is then that she receives an email from her ex-boyfriend and high school love Buddy Slade announcing the joy of his newborn baby.

Mavis obsesses over this fact until crafting a plan to return to Mercury, Minnesota to save him as he's so obviously "trapped" in his marriage, in their small hometown, and with this child. The driver of this compulsive reaction is Mavis' own insecurities and inadequacies of crafting her own life in Minneapolis and as a writer. We have no hint at any real fulfillment that Mavis may have in her life. She seems to generally enjoy her writing but not in the passionate way I've known so many of my writerly friends to be but, rather, because she knows high school. More specifically, Mavis knows the mind of the high school queen bee--a title she has never truly sough to evolve from. A title that means very little to many of her now former classmates, including Buddy Slade and his wife.

Mavis is equally as good at her own mind games as her characters are; so much so that she never truly looks inward at her motivations. She props herself up on a mightier than thou stance because she has "escaped" their town to the big city, but what life exactly does she have there in her sterile apartment and constant reruns of reality television?

Mavis returns to Mercury and, as is often the case when one returns home, she becomes the person she was when she left. In fact, she claims to have escaped Mercury but what's so sad about this dark comedy is that she's actually desperately longing to hold onto everything she had that's there: her popularity, her old boyfriend, her superiority. Everyone knows her in Mercury and she makes a point of dressing the part. When alone, however, she is drunken and wearing recycled sweatpants. It is only with new friend Matt does she show us the true Mavis, and what we see isn't pretty. It's a neurotic, beautiful woman who is so utterly alone and so completely lost that she's devoting all of her energy on confiscating someone else's life. Sure, it's a life she once believed she would have: one with Buddy, one perhaps with a baby.

Mavis couldn't care less about her family or, really, anyone but herself. Charlize nails the role of a self involved woman. It's all about how others can help her. Matt, a fellow classmate whom she rarely if at all remembers is her only confidant. It's part kindred spirits, part drunken antics, part excuse to be rebellious and juvenile once again. Matt is really only known for the cruelest event to ever happen in his life and, perhaps, in Mercury: He's the victim of a hate crime. On one end, Mavis' ability to look past this and not dwell on his handicap shows us a glimmer of hope. That hope, however, is never nourished. This is, after all, a dark comedy not a RomCom. Our heroine doesn't evolve as we would like. She uses Matt to feel better about herself.

That said, Matt uses Mavis for many of the same reasons. She's this ideal that he both valorized and now pleasantly gets along with. It's like finding out your idol is merely human with all the same flaws as everyone else; it's humbling and horrifying at the same time.

Mavis has her moments of humor, many of them in fact. She also has her moments of clarity if brief and fleeting. For example, she admits once aloud that she suspects she's an alcoholic but her proclamation isn't taken seriously.

The story comes to a climax at her ex-boyfriend's house. I won't give away all the details in case you go see the movie but I will say this: as conceded an individual as Mavis is, so completely without thought of her actions and consideration for others, I couldn't help but wonder how much of this is truly who she is and how much of it is fiction like what she writes--a front she so desperately clings to because her popular and beautiful ways once worked before and she's desperate to prove she still has it, desperate to believe the lies she tells herself.

Young Adult goes where so few movies and stories dare to go: a protagonist that we don't particularly like. That said, the storyline is unique and risk taking. Charlize so embodies this character that we believe she's true with every ounce of us even though we know it's a work of fiction. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, does what she does so well. She takes a magnifying glass to life and people and peels back the layers of those onions. She unapologetically writes a story with all the mess and snare that life has to offer. I would certainly recommend this movie for anyone looking for a well acted interesting story about the queen bee that never grew up and the town that did.


  1. Yes, loved the whole idea, but not particularly enjoyed the film in the end...