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'Young Adult' Movie Review

Everyone's Allowed a Swing and a Miss Every Once in a While

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


Charlize Theron in 'Young Adult'

Charlize Theron in 'Young Adult'

© Paramount Pictures
It was bound to happen. Jason Reitman has finally, after successfully selling us on a pregnant teen with an attitude (Juno), a delicious, pointed jab at the tobacco industry (Thank You for Smoking), and a timely look at corporate downsizing (Up in the Air), stumbled with Young Adult. Sure, Charlize Theron's performance is terrific, but that's not enough to make Young Adult worth trekking to the theater to see. When every character is so unappealing, it's difficult to find much to be entertained by while sitting through the 94 minute running time. And speaking of that short run-time, it's tough to remember a film this year that makes an hour and a half feel like a lifetime the way Young Adult manages to do.
Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote the script and you can hear some Juno-speak in Theron's young adult author character, Mavis Gray. Mavis is in her late 30s and extremely unhappy with life in general. She's a depressed alcoholic who's being pressured to finish writing the last of a series of once-popular young adult books. She was the 'it girl' in high school and, in her 37 year old mind, she's still the heartbreaker who can have any man she wants. And unfortunately for her old high school flame, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), she's decided it's time to return to her small Minnesota town and hook back up with him. However, Buddy's now happily married to Beth (played by Twilight mom Elizabeth Reaser) with a new baby. As unsatisfied as Mavis is, Buddy's the opposite - a king of contentment who's oblivious, at first, to Mavis' plan.

After randomly meeting up at a bar with one of her high school classmates who she paid absolutely no attention to in school, Mavis reveals her plan to lure Buddy away from his family. In her twisted mind, she believes there's no way he could possibly be happy with a new baby and without her - Mavis Gary the author - in his life, and Matt's (Patton Oswalt) attempts at luring her back to the real world are unsuccessful. Mavis is set to do whatever she needs to to reconnect with Buddy, and has no idea just how pathetic and sad all of her efforts actually are.

This second collaboration between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman hits all the wrong notes, aiming for 30+ females but missing the target by a mile. This isn't as smart as Juno, as clever as Thank You for Smoking, or as universally appealing to an adult audience as Up in the Air. Which is fine, if what Reitman and Cody are serving up with Young Adult somehow tweaks an emotional response or is just plain funny. However, Young Adult is being sold as a comedy which is a clear case of false advertising. There's nothing to laugh at as we watch Theron's Mavis pathetically attempt to recapture the glory of her youth. She's selfish, manipulative, and surrounded by people who feed into her fantasy. Mavis isn't a woman we'd want to know in real life, and she's definitely not someone we need to spend time watching in a feature film.

Patton Oswalt is the only saving grace in the entire production, and even his character ultimately comes across as unsympathetic. Oswalt and Theron - a pairing that doesn't seem in the least bit obvious - work well off of each other, providing the film with its few laughs as they reminisce about life as teens (he was beat to a pulp by bullies who thought he was gay; she was the golden girl). But there's no real closure to either of their stories, and the ending is an enormous letdown. You'll probably be expecting Mavis will find redemption of some sort, but we're left believing she's learned absolutely nothing and that our time spent watching her flail about oblivious to others has been totally wasted. The film's resolution is completely unfulfilling and when the credits roll, it feels as though we've been cheated of anything approximating a reasonable ending. And being cheated doesn't feel good.


Young Adult was directed by Jason Reitman and is rated R for language and some sexual content.

Theatrical Release: December 9, 2011

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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