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Film Review – YOUNG ADULT

Film: Young Adult
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Players: Charlize Theron; Patrick Wilson; Patton Oswalt; Elizabeth Reiser; Jill Eikenberry; Collete Wolfe
Genre: drama; dark comedy
Rating: ***½

Young Adult is as likely to make you cringe as cackle; it will offer hope as well as despair; the protagonist, Mavis Gary (Theron), is a brilliant study in beauty and ugliness, refinement and roughness. The film in other words, offers a clutch of contradictions and it is these dichotomies which lift the gritty realism of the film to a higher level of meaning. Mavis is externally beautiful when she makes the effort but initially a bout of depression deprives her of the will – so she slops around with hectic uncombed hair, plus big, baggy tracksuit pants and an unappealing ‘Hello Kitty’ t-shirt, which appears to double up as a night shirt. Her life in a cramped apartment in the concrete jungle, or, more specifically, Minneapolis, is drab, lonely, and devoted to meaningless rituals.
Mavis is recently divorced from Allan, and seems to have writer’s block when she should be pounding out the final book in a Young Adult series in which she is merely a ghost writer whose name appears in tiny print on the fly-leaf inside cover.
There is no actress in Hollywood who could carry off the complicated character of Mavis Gary better than Charlize Theron, the Hollywood hopeful who attracted notice by having a tantrum in an American bank. Mavis has a big mouth, confides ugly thoughts to friends and strangers alike, and can be crass and uncouth while flirting amorally with her former teenage boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Wilson), who is happily married and whose wife, Beth (Reiser), has just had a daughter and pounds drums badly in a local band.
Mavis’ life becomes imaginatively more romantic and an escape from drab realism. When she receives an e-mail from former-flame Slade, along with a cute picture of his baby, Mavis’ imaginary world is ignited with romantic possibilities of reviving the passion.
An important counterpoise to Mavis in the film is Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), a student non-entity whom Mavis remembers only vaguely as ‘The hate-crime guy’. Matt had been viciously beaten up by a crowd of jocks on suspicion of homosexuality; he had been permanently disabled and walks with a crutch, which Mavis thinks has become a symbol of his hopeless life. He, on the other hand, can recognise her misery as similar to his own. The dark humour rears up when it becomes clear that the publicity and sympathy engendered in the people of Mercury at this horrible attack dissipated completely when it was revealed that he was never a homosexual. Matt becomes Mavis’ doppelganger, always on the scene while she is attempting outrageous flirting with Buddy, who seems ‘a nice guy’ but incredibly dull and completely unambitious.
The humour is far outweighed by the poignancy of Mavis’ dilemma, even though she is hard to like: she is arrogant, self-assured, and does not suffer fools gladly or sadly. Still, when her cousin, Mike Moran’ discovers her in a bar while he is trundling round in a wheelchair playing snooker and heartily making the best of his disability, the gossip which is evoked by his positive heartiness is grimly humorous.
Much of the humour arises from dramatic irony of this nature: double entendres rely on the knowledge of the viewer in contrast to the ignorance of the characters. Buddy, for example, naively expresses the view that it would be nice ‘to pick up where we left off’ when we are fully aware of Mavis’ intentions to ensnare him, saving him from his unhappiness, an unhappiness which is as fictitious as her plans for her heroine, Kendall Sheldrick, who goes through the same angsts as the thirty-seven-year-old author directing the character’s life – although, ironically, Mavis seems absolutely incapable of directing her own in a positive or meaningful way.
The tagline of the film is ‘Everyone gets old; not everyone grows up’. When Mavis streaks off out of Mercury in her mini, leaving the emotional chaos behind her, we are left trembling for her future. The mediocrity of Mercury may have given her hope for the future but we are haunted by the dingy despair of the Minnesota apartment. We also contrast the hope of heroine Kendall Sheldrick, fresh out of college with a world of possibility ahead of her at the end of the Young Adult series, to the ephemeral hopes of ghost writer Mavis, heading for 40 with a world of failure behind her.

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