By Marc S. Sanders
Charlize Theron is always an actress who impresses me. Ever since I saw her in The Devil’s Advocate, I’ve been taken with her on screen presence. She simply has a natural way of bringing a character to life, and usually it is with unhinged and complicated women who never escape and overthrow what’s tormenting them. Her Academy Award winning turn in Monster as serial killer Aileen Wuornos is a perfect example, and her role in Jason Reitman’s film Young Adult is a close second best.
Young Adult was written by Diablo Cody (Juno, also directed by Reitman) and depicts Theron as Mavis Gary, a once successful author of a series of novels aimed at pre-teen and teenage girls. When she receives an email baby announcement from her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade, Mavis wearing her sweatpants and worn-out t shirt packs up her puppy dog and leaves her one-night stand in her Minneapolis apartment and heads back to her small Minnesota town. She’s not there to see the newborn bundle, however. Mavis is under the delusion that she can win back Buddy who is now happily married.
This isn’t going to go well for Mavis, especially while she’s drowning in one bottle after another.
Patton Oswalt plays Matt, a former classmate, who comes upon Mavis’ arrival. Matt knows immediately that Mavis doesn’t have it altogether. She has not endured as well as he has following a terribly violent hate crime experience in high school when he was mistakenly taken for being gay. Mavis recalls this moment but with great insensitivity. She laughs as she reflects on the incident. Her take equates to maybe Matt being victim to a wedgie or being trapped in a locker. It was much worse than that. Matt’s legs and genitals were smashed in the beating.
Oswalt is very good in his role. Matt doesn’t need to have any regard for Mavis, the once popular prom princess. However, he can’t help but see her pitifully make a fool of herself as she attempts to intrude upon Buddy’s life.
Buddy appears naive to Mavis’ sloppy advances. Buddy sees the image of a successful author prim and proper. Matt sees the ugliness of Mavis beneath her makeup and dress clothes that never hang well on her intoxicated stature.
Cody’s screenplay takes place over three days. In that time, she allows her main character to come to the realization that she’s not a happy person and most certainly is alcohol dependent. A baby welcoming party makes evident of this conclusion. It is an event that will be remembered but for all the wrong reasons. Theron is astonishing in this scene. Not a likable character and yet so well performed.
Reitman is a good director with simplicity. He is simple at showing what likely eats at the good, published writer Mavis used to be. When Mavis drives back into town, Reitman shows her car pass by franchise businesses like Chili’s or Staples. There’s no imagination in these locales. No history or depth. There’s no stimulation. It’s all corporate. Just my theory, but I’d say that could drive a successfully imaginative writer into a depression. No wonder Mavis left town. Problem is she moved on with no constants in her life. Consider the fact that Mavis doesn’t even share with her parents that she’s come back into town.
Juno is the better film from Reitman and Cody. There was a broader scope of the characters at play, beyond just Juno herself. Theron and Oswalt are the only ones with multi dimensions in Young Adult. It’s a benefit that the film clocks in at only just over 90 minutes. Any longer and I’d have grown tired of this film. I can’t expect Mavis to overcome her demons in this short period of time. So, we are reserved to seeing how she further undoes herself and nearly destroys the family and people (not friends) she once knew. Basically, Young Adult shows a woman arrive at rock bottom. Therefore, I applaud Reitman and Cody for keeping this film condensed. The high school popularity is but a memory. Success is gradually moving away from her. Despair and depression and the illness of addiction is all that is left for her.