Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Young Adult

2011. Dir: Jason Reitman. Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser and Collette Wolfe. ●●●●○

I have yet to see all of the nominated performances in the Academy Award for best actress this year, or at least six of the higher profile contenders that didn't make the cut, however it's hard to believe there are five more deserving, more lived in performances than Charlize Theron's monstrous Mavis Gary inYoung Adult. But to single out Jason Reitman's fourth feature for it's central performance feels as insubstantial as praising George Clooney in Up in the Air or Ellen Page in Juno, almost as if it's missing the point. Not only does Reitman coax out these superb characterisations he, along with screenwriter Diablo Cody, create these distinct believable roles for the actors to inhabit.

The ghost writer of a popular (waning but still generating enough buzz to render her with minor celebrity status in her home town) series of teenager fictional novels, gripped by writer's block and sensing a lack of direction following her divorce, Mavis journeys homeward in a vague but determined attempt to reclaim her highschool sweetheart, the popular jock Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately Wilson isn't just married but his wife (a special needs teacher with a pub band) has recently pushed out their first baby, or "baggage" in Mavis's eye.

Added to this the biggest emotional connection she seems to able to make in Mercury, Minnesota, beating out her parents and her dog accessory (another contender for best dog of 2011), is with a overweight comic-book geek Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). A high-school alumni who she barely remembers as "hate-crime guy" - the result of a perceptive homophobic attack which left Freehauf unable to walk without a stick (as well as damaging other vital organs) - in spite of sharing neighbouring lockers for their entire education.

Mavis no longer fits in Mercury. She has ostracised herself, at once romanticising her recollections and editing out the emotional damage she caused to those classmates not in her circle, creating a secondary world where she was the victim of a small town that held her back rather than the bitchy spider at the centre of the web of teenage malice. In her memory the past was as rosy and perfect as the storylines of her novels, where she was lauded for her fair mindedness and beauty by all her classmates, where her self confidence and determination give her the rewards she deserves.

Charlize is able to bring all this out in her finest performance to date, a sneer, a squint, a complicated make-up routine all weapons in the arsenal to show disdain for her fellow humanity and to ensnare her former beau. Even her self-acknowledged alcoholism and delusional fantasies regarding her emotional levelheadedness seem to be engineered internally to make the grand gesture. Never for a moment do you not know how Mavis is feeling but at the same time it's obvious she believes she's never letting it on.

Oswalt is also a revelation, hitherto best known for his stand-up and TV comedy work, his holy fool of a character combines obvious provision of comic relief with his anarchic opinions and frank sexual talk and yet he is incisive seeing through Mavis and her plot machinations with ease. Everytime he talks you feel the resentment of the town as much as Mavis and with a much clearer peception and cause than her disgust, yet he is unable to escape, tied down by his disability emotionally and physically.

Like the real world Mavis both grows and doesn't grow over the period of the movie, the path she is on is both different and the same, she goes on a journey and yet ends in the same emotional space. Reitman and Cody expertly lets the back story permeate through the piece, saving the sucker punch of Mavis and Buddy's split until major monologue closing the second act. It's so perfectly rendered by all involved that we begin to sympathise with the monster, against all our better judgements we want better for Mavis. It's that empathy which allows us to put our own thoughts on the last scene, where does Mavis go after that will largely depend on where you would go. Would Mavis develop and learn? Only if you would.

Diablo Cody deserves a major shout-out for her delicious dialogue, it's not the geeky hipster speak she virtually invented in Juno (her detractors get some sly knocks her as she virtually admits to how she picked up on teenage dialects), but instead is nuanced as well as pithy when required.

I would love to give this film five blobs, but in all fairness it didn't blow me away like my previous lucky few to receive that accolade, that said this is a very strong four blob film and I heartily recommend it to all of my readers.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I liked this, LOVED Charlize, greatly liked Diablo but Reitman doesn't work for me as a director. Most of my issues with the film seem to rest on him, and I sort of loathed UP IN THE AIR. Some of his choices with his takes take me out of the film, a bit, but it's still a fine one.

(And I feel just the slightest bit badly for Patrick Wilson who no one seems to be citing.)

Runs Like A Gay said...

I liked Patrick too, but it's such a reactive role and one that he's done dozens of times that it's hard to signal it out for praise.

It's odd that we disagree about Reitman, I really like his work as a director, good pacing and really good at encouraging great performances. And Up in the Air was one of my top films in 2010.