Young Adult
Needs More Flair

Director Jason Reitman has directed only three feature films to date, but all three have been critically acclaimed, with the last two, Juno and Up in the Air, earning Oscar nominations for Best Picture.  It’s reasonable, then, to expect that his latest movie, Young Adult, would be earning some early award buzz, especially considering that it reunites the director with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody.  The movie has garnered some attention for a couple of its actors, but it seems that as more and more people see the movie, the further it falls off the award radar… with good reason.

The movie stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a former high school cheerleader whose life has devolved into a series of alcoholic binges and one-night stands.  The fact that she works as a writer of young adult fiction, vicariously living through the lives of her fictional high school characters, only further drives home the idea that Mavis has refused to give up her past life.

When she receives a baby announcement from an old flame, Mavis packs up her neglected Pomeranian and heads back to the small town where she grew up.  She has made up her mind that this old flame, Buddy Slade, and she are destined to be together… and she is determined to help him solve this minor problem of his wife and baby so that the two of them can be together again.  What she’ll discover, however, is that Buddy and the rest of her hometown has grown up without her.

Charlize Theron as Mavis in Young AdultMost of the Oscar attention for Young Adult has been directed at Theron and Patton Oswalt, who plays the crippled former classmate with whom Mavis somewhat bonds upon her return.  Both actors are good, but Oscar-worthy does seem like quite a stretch.  For Theron, it is hard to get behind her performance simply because Mavis is such a stagnant, uninteresting character.  There is no real character arc as Mavis leaves her hometown the same immature mess that she was when she arrived; she’s even wearing the same baggy Hello Kitty t-shirt and pink sweatpants that she arrived in.  Just when you think that Mavis is going to make that big realization and turn her life around, a supporting character (in every sense of the term) tells her that she is perfect just as she is and in true self-centered character fashion, Mavis agrees.

The fact that the lead character fails to grow in any way not only hurts Theron’s Oscar chances, but also the movie itself.  It is difficult to get behind a movie whose protagonist has no character arc, especially when that character is such an unlikeable figure. Perhaps if the character’s unpleasantness were played for stronger laughs or was more extreme, the movie’s intrigue level could have been salvaged.  As it is, the movie is rather dull and uninteresting.

The movie’s lifelessness is very unusual for a Jason Reitman film, as all of his previous movies came with a certain director’s flair that made them thoroughly interesting.  Thank You For Smoking, for instance, used flashy editing, animation, and sound effects to help tell its story.  Of course, Juno’s originality had a lot to do with its cleverly written dialogue, but unfortunately Diablo Cody is not able to work the same magic here.  The result is a movie that fails to demonstrate any kind of creativity and the end product feels very undirected.  Sometimes, not seeing a director’s work can benefit the project, but Young Adult certainly could have benefited from some kind of flourish.

Young Adult is rated R for “language and some sexual content.”  That pretty much sums it up.  The language alone warrants the rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Young Adult.