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Josh Reviews Young Adult

In a season of generally serious movie-fare, Young Adult is a blazingly funny film that still carries some serious dramatic heft.  It’s an absolute knockout of a film from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (who previously collaborated on the great 2007 film Juno).

Charlize Theron plays Mavis.  She was clearly the queen bee of her high school, though her life these days seems to be anything but great.  She’s divorced, living alone in the city, and the line of high school-set young adult novels that she’s been ghost-writing has been cancelled.  When she receives an e-mail notification that her old high school flame, Buddy, has become a father, Mavis decides to head back to her small home-town of Mercury to win back her old beau (his wife and child be damned).

Ms. Theron has never been better, in my opinion, than she is as Mavis.  Mavis is still gorgeous on the outside, but Ms. Theron (guided by Ms. Cody’s take-no-prisoners script) is fearless in showing us how absolutely twisted and broken she is on the inside.  Mavis is a terrible, terrible person, and of course for the whole film you’re rooting at her to fail in breaking up Buddy’s family.  But at the same time, Ms. Theron is able to create a character who doesn’t totally turn off the audience.  She’s so hysterical in her bad behavior that she’s completely compelling as the lead character in the film.

The comedian Patton Oswalt is equally terrific as Matt Freehauf, a high school classmate who Mavis bumps into at a bar when she first returns to Mercury.  Matt was (and still is) a geek, and to say that he and Mavis travelled in different circles in high school is to put it mildly.  And yet, the two strike up a weird sort of friendship during the week that Mavis is in town.  There are a few times when the film hits the “geek” aspect of Matt’s personality a bit too hard (there are plenty of lonely geeky guys out there, I’m sure, who don’t still play with action figures), but for the most part I found Matt to be nearly as interesting a personality as Mavis.  Most of that is due to Mr. Oswalt’s energy and charisma.  Matt is a depressed, lonely guy, someone who contains a lot of pain and sadness inside, and yet even as Matt says he hates his life, Mr. Oswalt gives him an almost childlike joie do vivre that I found tremendously entertaining.  Physically and personality-wise, the pairing of Mavis and Matt (and Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt) is an inspired study in contrasts, and yet the two are both so similar in their loneliness.  The best scenes in the film are the ones in which those two slightly unhinged (well, in Mavis’ case, more than slightly) characters bounce off one another.

I applaud the filmmakers for resisting the urge for those two characters to follow the usual arc you’d expect of those types of characters in movies.  Late in the film, Marvis appears to be teetering on the edge of actually learning a small lesson and making a change in her life, but in an absolutely horrifying (in the best possible way) scene, she is talked out of it by Matt’s sister.  What a bullet dodged!  Spoiler alert: Mavis remains just as messed up at the end of the film as she was at the beginning, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Young Adult embraces the famous Seinfeld motto of “no hugging, no learning.”  The film ends on exactly the perfect note, and I’m not even referring to the absolutely genius choice of the song that plays over the end credits.

Young Adult is a real winner — an extraordinary piece of dark comedic perfection.  It might not appeal to everyone, but boy did I love pretty much every second.

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