Director Jason Reitman is well known for quirky life tales about screw-ups; Ellen Page’s brash teenager Juno and George Clooney’s nomadic hatchet, Ryan Bingham of Up in the Air his most notable so far.
Whereas both Juno’s and Bingham’s blunders lead to a finale of relative comfort and contentment, Charlize Theron’s Young Adult is a sorry figure that, through a quite immense and ranged performance evokes every extreme of emotion through her tragically comic life-changing journey back home.
Mavis is a solitary, struggling writer; her Young Adult series of books are not the draw they once were. Reminiscing and living out her former high school ‘It girl’ days through her soon to be cancelled ‘ghost writings’, she looks to make the break from Alcoholism and sleazy one night stands to return to her home town and win back her former, now married sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson).
Theron delivers an extraordinary performance, as equally beautiful and charming as she is dour and despicable. Loathing almost everything and everyone, still demonstrating the traits of the unpleasant teen she once was. Never moving on, even when the town she left has and the people still trapped there have grown up; and in Buddy, matured into the contentment, what Mavis sees as the “Prison” of happily married, family life.
Theron’s bitch is the heart and not-so nice soul of a bittersweet tale, the living composition of her own young adult book character, with written thoughts resonating from the page through Theron’s sporadic voiceover.
Mavis’ acts depict a hard bitten, damaged adult and an immature adolescent. It’s an unwavering and brave performance; an almost schizophrenic character, definitely deluded, and certainly divisive when evoking pity and distain in equal measure.
Shepherding Mavis from her increasingly futile attempts to woo is former classmate and geek Matt (Patton Oswalt), another screw up but without fault of his own or self-loathing, Mavis’ and Matt’s relationship becomes the greatest bond and the most unlikely friendship. Theron and Oswalt play together brilliantly in reliving teenage pursuits, smart arse teasing and the sharing of some brutal home truths.
Oswalt’s Matt is as equally captivating and at times pitiful, but far more genial having a clearer directed moral compass than Mavis; her conscience as well as a chief supplier of outrageously Alcoholic moonshine for their drunken escapades.
Diablo Cody’s quirky dialogue and brilliant scripting tells a familiar tale of going back, moving on and small town teenage angst seen in previous Reitman collaborations; but this time in Mavis’ trapped young adult and a sublime central performance once more from Theron, a juvenile that never grew up, and maybe never should have gone back.