In Minneapolis, Minnesota, lives Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a self-centered, reality-TV-obsessed, binge-drinking divorcee, with a bad case of arrested development. By day she ghost writes the Waverly Prep
series of young adult novels and by night she stumbles through an unfulfilling pattern of booze and sex.
While experiencing a spate of writer's block, she receives an email from her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and the picture attachment shows that he and his wife Beth have just welcomed the birth of a baby girl. Instead of seeing this a cue to congratulate the new parents, Mavis' self-serving mind sees this as a sign that she and Buddy are meant to be together and she promptly plans a trip back to the small town of Mercury, Minnesota, to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart, because well, "babies are boring".
Theron, a self-confessed "director groupie" sought out Jason Reitman after seeing his 2009 Academy Award nominated film Up In the Air
. As the story goes, she was looking to involve herself in something different. And here we are.
For Young Adult
, Reitman teamed up with writer Diablo Cody (the two also worked together in 2007 on Juno
), but this time around they've taken a much darker, meaner approach to their comedy. Rather than a quirky high school outsider that sold hamburger phones the world over, we have a female lead that takes shape as a lonely, emotionally-stunted, anxious, hair-pulling alcoholic. Instead of going to high school, we've got someone who mentally never left.
Despite being in her late thirties, Mavis is just like the audience she writes for and about: a needy and self-absorbed young adult. Whether she's dressed in last night's makeup and a tracksuit, or transformed with cleavage and pumps into a bewitching vamp she's equally manipulative, and more than willing to wreak havoc on anyone or anything seemingly in her way.
Theron takes up the role of psychotic prom queen bitch well. She embraces the ugliness beneath the character's facade and paints a very convincing picture of someone who is utterly preoccupied with her own emotions, interests, and situation to the exclusion of absolutely all else.
With her life's unhappiness having manifest itself into a desire to reclaim her - for all intents and purposes - glamorous past, we soon find her at a bar back in little old Mercury. It's here that she runs into her formerly neglected locker-mate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt
) and, while drunk, she let's him in on her scheme to win back ex-beau Buddy. He promptly tells her to seek help.
A friendship (of sorts) between the two ensues, and reveals that Matt hasn't quite gotten over high school either, although for entirely different reasons. He still agonises over the cruel beating (an erroneous high school hate crime, as he wasn't then, nor is now, gay) that left him just about dead - and fair enough when you've been forced to walk with a cane and "piss sideways" for the past 20 years, because of what a bunch of jocks with bats did to your legs and cock.
While her character's knack for writing popular teen fiction is really just the stream of consciousness of a woman desperately chasing her years as high school queen bee, his damage is visible, and serves as a daily reminder of the discriminatory way in which the school yard operates to those who aren't so genetically blessed. His embittered attitude offers up a contentious opinion to Mavis' delusions and allows for some very biting dialogue between the pair as he tries, again and again, to get her to see sense and stop throwing her very able-bodied life away.
In Young Adult
Cody has penned an unsympathetic portrayal of extended adolescence and Theron and Oswalt work well to convincingly depict some very unattractive human qualities. It's their misadventures, romantically and otherwise, that provide the film with its most significant scenes, yet the story isn't compelling as much as it is a train wreck that you can't turn away from.
So black is the comedy that even Theron said the film left her feeling as though she'd been "punched in the face over and over again."
Words by Ariel Katz. More at thevine.com.au