Juno writer Diablo Cody re-teams with director Jason Reitman for yet another stab at an off-beat comedy. This time they channel a cold, heartless bitch. Young Adult doesn’t have the “hip” or “flashy” writing of Juno or Jennifer’s Body, but it does have that same awkward line delivery that feels so phony and unrealistic, making the film less entertaining. Jokes that could have been funny fall flat to the floor and linger there for 15 to 20 seconds too long while Charlize Theron tries her hardest to prove she’s a bad girl. Young Adult is dark, but it’s not really a comedy because there’s rarely a laugh to be heard.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is an alcoholic novelist who writes shitty young adult novels. She moved out of the little hick town of Mercury to the big city of Minneapolis in hopes of starting a new life and outdoing everyone she grew up with. Years later she returns to the small-town alone, drunk and full of regret. In hopes to reconnect with an old high school flame that’s happily married with a child Mavis heads back to Mercury for a so called real estate adventure. She runs into her former locker neighbor Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who’s a cripple due to an incident in high school and is now living with his sister.
Matt and Mavis instantly connect as they crack harsh jokes back and forth about the past and about Mavis’ ludicrous plan to hook up with Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). The closer Mavis gets to Buddy the worse things get. Her depression thickens and her alcohol addiction causes a downward spiral of events that result in some truly unique situations for Mavis, Buddy and Matt. Young Adult is essentially a dark comedy trying too hard to be dark. It wears its soulless intentions on its sleeve and it has to stop every ten minutes to remind you just how bad Mavis is, whether it be her stealing novel ideas from a bunch of teenagers at a Ken-Taco-Hut (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut combo restaurant) or her simply arguing with the hotel clerk over the pet policy.
Young Adult crashes and burns because of its over-attempt at dark humor. I’ll admit that there are certain spots between Mavis and Matt that really do work, but those moments are few and far between. The main problem with the film rests in its writing. Diablo Cody exchanges character beats for lines of quirky dialogue. I have no doubt that director Jason Reitman did the best with what he had, but if the writing is crap then the movie can’t really stretch much further.
The writing almost always falls flat. Most of the jokes aren’t funny; instead they attempt to make you briefly chuckle for a second and then move on once they’ve failed to elicit an emotion. I laughed out loud maybe once during the entire running time of the film and that was during Matt and Mavis’ first real encounter. There is absolutely no doubt that Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt have chemistry in the film. They’re the only thing saving the film from being a complete waste of time and energy.
Charlize Theron lets it all hang out as Mavis. She’s the meanest person you’ll ever meet and she has not one redeemable trait. She’s a hack of a writer, an alcoholic and a sneaky person who’s only worried about her agenda. Theron has no problem dawning the pissed off look and carrying it for the whole film. She’s always got that “fuck you” look on her face and each character she approaches instantly backs up in fear of getting their face knocked off their body. But Theron almost overdoes it at one point. She goes from believably bad to laughably bad.
Patton Oswalt stretches some of his acting chops as Matt. He’s that kid that got picked on in high school and eventually ended up getting his ass kicked. Now he chills at the local bars and mingles with whoever decides to come in. He doesn’t hit on Mavis or even feel nervous around her; he simply enjoys watching her stupid plan fall to pieces. The end connection between these two characters is seen from a mile away and it still feels underwhelming and out of place.
It’s because every character relationship feels very underdeveloped. Theron has no problem playing a complete bitch, but her interactions with Oswalt rarely spark anything more than a couple of odd jokes. By the end when they “connect” I was left upset at how forced it all felt.
The actual ending was also a bit of a letdown. It’s just one big loop of pointlessness. She’s learned nothing and continues to do nothing. I’m fine with our heartless heroine continuing her evil ways, but at least give her a lesson to learn or something to advance with.
There are moments of some great character work by Theron, especially when she confronts her alcoholism, but apparently Jason Reitman was more interested in selling a bad-ass tough as nails bitch and not an emotionally damaged person trying to fix themselves in the only way they know how. I wanted more of the broken down Theron, not the complete bitch that’s literally rotten to the core. Usually dark comedy characters are so damn bad that they end up appealing to the masses, Theron appears to be trying to channel some good, but either Reitman’s directing or Cody’s writing keeps steering her into the other direction, the direction of disconnection between the character and the audience.
As far as Reitman’s directing goes in a general sense it’s good. Most of the shots are washed out ugly gray’s, showing the bleak world Mavis lives in. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but the camerawork is steady and simple. It doesn’t feel like a Reitman film though. The editing isn’t his usual stuff and most of the film teeters on a depressing and pathetic note. Usually Reitman brings a fresh sense of comedy to his films, whether it be adding a comedic charm to laying off thousands of people in Up in the Air or a tobacco lobbyist selling cigarettes to teens in Thank You for Smoking. Even Juno had an appealing look to it.
The boring and colorless look is no doubt intentional, but it feels like such an eyesore to watch. None of the locations stick out, everything sort of mashes together as one big ugly set full of piss colored yellows and deadly grays.
I really had problems connecting with Young Adult. It wasn’t that funny and it wasn’t that interesting. The characters are cheated of any real advancement. Theron and Oswalt deserve better. Both were channeling their own version of damaged goods, but when put together the end result wasn’t what it should have been. It quickly ends on a very low note, leaving the audience feeling robbed of any real drama or story. You won’t care for a damn soul in the entire film and you’ll probably ask yourself why you even bothered watching the film when it’s all said and done.
Had Young Adult gone with the emotions present throughout the whole film that tried poking their heads at the end, the film would have been a lot better. It wouldn’t have been a great comedy, but it could have acted as a really honest drama that came full circle, but it confuses its intentions at the end and quickly evacuates before causing any more harm.
Young Adult – 7.5/10