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Movie Review: Young Adult

January 6, 2012

Young Adult – A Paramount Pictures’ Release

Release Date: December 16th, 2011 (limited)

Rated 14A for coarse language and mature themes

Running time: 94 minutes

Jason Reitman (dir.)

Diablo Cody (writer)

Rolfe Kent (music)

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary

Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf

Patrick Wilson as Buddy Slade

Elizabeth Reaser as Beth Slade

Collette Wolfe as Sandra Freehauf

Jill Eikenberry as Hedda Gary

Richard Bekins as David Gary

Mary Beth Hurt as Jan

Kate Nowlin as Mary Ellen Trantowski

Louisa Krause as Front Desk Girl

Elizabeth Ward Land as Sales Lady

Brian McElhaney as Book Associate

©Paramount Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) in Young Adult.

Our reviews below:


Young Adult Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Over the brilliant opening scene of Young Adult, we experience a day in the life of 37-year-old teen fiction author Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron).  She wakes up hungover in her messy Minneapolis apartment, casually feeds her dog and drinks from a bottle of Diet Coke.  Directed with a unique visual style by Jason Reitman, this is the perfect set up to a daring film.  With an insightful screenplay by Diablo Cody, this is a story that doesn’t care whether or not you like the characters, but makes it impossible not to get deeply invested in their story.

But then Mavis gets an email from her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), announcing the birth of a daughter with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).  So she leaves a one night stand behind and heads out to her old home town of Mercury, Minnesota with the delusion that she can still win back her old flame.  There she meets former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), an overweight self-professed geek who is physically disabled from being brutally attacked by bullies in high school.  The two become drinking buddies who form an unlikely bond, as Matt tries desperately to keep her more grounded in the reality that her ex has moved on with his life.

After such unforgettable achievements as Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, this is director Jason Reitman’s fourth great film in a row.  Screenwriter Diablo Cody first gained fame when she won an Oscar for writing Juno several years back, and her script for Young Adult is one of the best of 2011.  It’s a genuinely inspired choice to show us what the popular mean girl from high school would be like when she’s in her thirties, and we get a fascinating character who is still living out her youth by ghost writing a series of teen girl novels.  The way Cody handles every character in the movie is painfully believable, without ever falling into the trap of easy sympathy.

Charlize Theron is brilliant here, delivering a performance as the messed up Mavis Gary that is nothing short of mesmerizing.  We know she would have been beautiful in high school because she is still capable of being good looking now, but there is a hard edge to her character that Theron bravely allows to shine through.  The shots of her pulling out strands of her blonde hair and waking up hungover are anything but flattering, adding to our investment in her eerily believable story.  Patton Oswalt is equally brilliant.  His character is sometimes funny and often heartbreaking, but keeps the film grounded in a depressive reality.  We don’t reach a great epiphany in the end, and in some ways this is one of the biggest strengths of the story.

Whether it is because she refuses to allow herself to move on, or simply that she can’t let go of her past, Mavis Gary is stuck.  Not only is she stuck in the misconception that she could still end up with her old boyfriend, but also in the delusion that who she was in high school is who she should be for the rest of her life.  It’s not like she even wants Buddy’s quiet family life, but more that she is jealous because someone else is able to make him happy.  Matt Freehauf is also stuck, but in a different and more metaphorical way.  He hasn’t moved on because of his disability, but also because it is easier for him to stay where he is.  The way that these two deeply flawed characters come together is somehow beautiful, without ever becoming easy or sentimental.

From the brilliant script by Diablo Cody to the excellent performances of Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, Young Adult is the sort of fearless film made up of flawed characters that I found impossible not to admire.  As I entered the theatre, Adele’s “Someone Like You” was playing on the radio.  “I heard that your dreams came true,” Adele sings in the quiet power of the song, “guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.”  When the movie ended, I was surprised at just how perfectly these lyrics fit the story.  We watch in fascination as the main character painfully realizes that she is no longer able to fulfill the life of her high school boyfriend, as those around her remind her that she got older but never truly grew up.


Young Adult Review by Erin V.  

*** (out of 4)

In Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a 37-year-old who still acts like she’s in her last year of highschool.  She often wakes up hung over in the mornings, and starts her day with a swig from a bottle of Diet Coke.  Her job is as a ghost writer for a teen fiction formula book, but while trying to work on the latest issue one day an e-mail pops into her inbox – announcing the birth of her ex-boyfriend and his new wife’s baby.  Printing it out, she decides to travel from Minneapolis back to the small town Mercury where she grew up in order to see him again.

There’s only one problem.  It’s not to congratulate them that she’s making the trip – it’s because seeing the e-mail from him makes her want to reignite what they had almost twenty years ago, despite the life he already has settled down to.  When she gets to Mercury, she meets up with several old classmates, all of whom (unlike her) have at least tried to grow up.  The only one she can really talk to though is Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), someone she pretty much ignored in high school, but who also now allows himself to give into self-pity at times, making him in some ways the only one who gets her.

The characters here are not inherently likable, but they are believable, largely due to the performances of the cast.  Oswalt’s character in particular is interesting, and the POV of Theron’s is strong enough that we can follow it, even if we don’t directly relate.  The writing is sharp and it is the little things that the characters say and do that tell so much about their lives that remain under the surface.  The film is interesting, both as a drama and from a psychological standpoint.  For those interested in indie films, or the previous work of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, Young Adult is worth checking out – if not now, on DVD.


Young Adult Review by Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Young Adult is a realistic portrayal of a troubled adult who is stuck in the past.  Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is an alcoholic ghost writer of teen formula books.  At 37, she still dresses like a teenager.  After a sad event in her past as well as a failed marriage, Mavis feels she must reconnect with her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who is now married and has a baby girl.  As she tries to break up his marriage, she also reconnects with former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), whose leg was permanently injured in a brutal attack from bullies.

This is a well made film.  The three main characters, Mavis Gary, Buddy Slade and Matt Freehauf are well developed.  The acting in Young Adult is also quite believable, capturing the subtleties of the human psyche.  Diablo Cody, as a screenwriter, has managed to portray these characters in both a sympathetic and believable way.  While not for everyone, Young Adult is an interesting film that provides a good character study.


Young Adult Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Growing older is not the same as growing up, with some individuals getting stuck at a certain age in their past.  In writer Diablo Cody’s and director Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, 37-year-old Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is at a turning point in her life.  Recently divorced, she lives in her messy Minneapolis apartment with her little dog, Dolce.  Between drinking too much and one-night stands, Mavis is having a hard time focusing on completing the final in a series of young adult fiction books that she has been ghostwriting for years.  When Mavis receives an email about the recent birth of her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade’s (Patrick Wilson) baby girl, she becomes obsessed with heading back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to reclaim her old flame.  The fact that he has a wife and child is just an annoying detail.

Mavis Gary is not a likable character.  However, thanks to Diablo Cody’s sharply written dialogue and Charlize Theron’s strong performance, she is a completely believable and intriguing character to watch.  We learn a lot about who she is as a person when she meets up with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who has a physical disability after a brutal attack in high school.  The scenes between Mavis and Matt are some of the best in the movie.  Patton Oswalt’s strong performance is a match for Charlize Theron.

There is no one big dramatic moment in Young Adult and no big moment of redemption for the unlikable protagonist, Mavis.  However, this is a well-written and well acted character study, and a thoroughly watchable intelligent drama that tells a believable story.


Young Adult Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Young Adult (YA) is the genre of a series of novels ghost-written by Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) in the shabby Minneapolis apartment she shares with her little dog. Seeing that her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) have just had a baby, she rushes back to their small home town of Mercury MN, convinced that he must be miserable and needs her to rescue him. During her week in Mercury, she confides with a classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) who had been savagely bullied in high school. Though in her late 30s, Mavis continuously makes herself over to reflect the YA image and scenario of the novel she is writing, using snippets of overheard dialogue. The outcome is far from what she would have expected.

With brilliant direction by Jason Reitman and a sharp script from Diablo Cody, we become intimately involved with every moment of the character that Charlize Theron completely embodies, with fine support from the rest of the cast, particularly Oswalt. Every frame is carefully chosen to move the story along, with a perfect selection of tunes in the background. The overall result is a fascinating character study.


Consensus: Directed by Jason Reitman with a brilliant screenplay by Diablo Cody, Young Adult is an insightful and believable study of flawed characters that features excellent performances from Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt.  ***1/4 (Out of 4)

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