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'Young Adult' starring Charlize Theron is mostly uncomfortable and sometimes funny

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Charlize Theron shines in sometimes funny, mostly uncomfortable 'Young Adult'

Young Adult, the latest collaboration between Juno creators Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) and Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body), certainly isn’t a sunny coming of age teenage comedy. It’s not exactly a drama either.charlize theron young adult


No, both Cody and Reitman want to make sure the audience knows that they have grown as partners, and are ready to deliver something darker. Thus, Young Adult is meant be something of a twisted character study. However, without a fully fleshed out anti-hero and a story worth telling, the film ends up a missed opportunity.

Young Adult follows Mavis (Charlize Theron), a boozing, recently divorced mess who can’t even seem to wake up past noon much less get a chapter written in her new book. An author of series of novels set in high school, she seems to be stuck in a rut and possibly even regressing in maturity.

Things get much worse when an email arrives from an old flame, announcing the birth of his new son. Convinced that this is code for some yearning desire to be saved from a meaningless suburban existence, Mavis picks up and heads back to her hometown where she plans to steal him back.

Once there, she manages to forcibly coax Buddy (Patrick Wilson) out for drinks one night, but the seductions fall short. At the same bar, she strikes up a bond with Patton (Matt Freehoaf), an old classmate. He had a miserable high school experience, one that he still carries the weight from, both physically and mentally.

The rest of the film follows Mavis’s many uncomfortable attempts to lead Buddy astray, from getting him wasted, to driving him home late night, and finally crashing his baby shower with disastrous results. She also visits her parents and continues to learn more about Patton, a figurine nerd who also has an obsession with making homemade bourbon.

 

The film’s strongest moments are between Mavis and Patton, both damaged souls connecting over their broken pieces.  Both Theron and Freehoaf do superb work here, really developing a strong chemistry amongst a pair of unlikely individuals. Cody’s writing is strongest in these segments, as she averts the cliché route of making Patton a gay character, more interested in creating a wise character textured with shades of tragedy and regret.

It’s a shame that the rest of the movie never fully comes together. Reitman provides some subtle, sharp jabs at the banality of suburban lifestyle, and he coaxes some dynamite performances, but Cody is hardly up to the task. Her script is too meandering, a character study without enough arc.  Nothing really happens here, and here isn’t enough interesting material to stretch the film as long as it goes.

Theron does her absolute best with a character that’s pretty impossible. She doesn’t exactly make Mavis likeable, but she truly ropes the audience in to the stinging sadness and awkwardness present throughout. Although most of the film promotes the shallowness of the character, Theron has a strong scene late in the game where she actually injects humanity in Mavis. It’s hard to imagine another actress who could make that work more given the source material.

In the end, credit is due for the filmmaker’s bravery in departing from the norm. Still, with all of the talent involved, Young Adult could have been edgier, funnier, and more heartbreaking. Mavis may have a story worth telling, but Cody’s finished product feels more like a first draft.   

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photos: Paramount