"Arguably Reitman's most exceptional feature film to date..."
Considering Jason Reitman's previous titles Up in the Air and Juno were both so critically acclaimed - earning a total of four Oscar nominations between them, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Young Adult has been overlooked at this year's ceremony, given it's arguably Reitman's most exceptional feature film to date.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a seemingly self-assured yet tender and fragile author, living alone in Minneapolis attempting to write the concluding novel of her successful fiction series aimed at young adults.
Mavis appears to have it all, but the one thing she is lacking in is affection, specifically from her past boyfriend and high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), so in a somewhat impulsive move, she decides to return home to small town Minnesota to win back the love of her former partner, despite being fully aware of the fact that Buddy is happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) with a new-born baby daughter.
However, upon Mavis' return home, she bumps into Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former peer of hers, who was attacked in school for being a homosexual, losing full use of both his legs. Matt is on to Mavis' deluded and somewhat demented plan, and will do all he can to talk her out of it.
As a firm disbeliever of the Juno hype (in short, I couldn't bear that movie) there was a degree of tentativeness going into Young Adult, wary of the fact it was the first collaboration between Reitman and writer Diablo Cody since teaming up for the indie hit. Yet Young Adult couldn't be more different, taking the charm and sincerity from Juno, but avoiding any of the pretentiousness and contrived artfulness. Another positive similarity between Young Adult and Juno is the endearing soundtrack.
Cody should be commended for writing a feature that is as witty as it is poignant. The story and premise itself is extremely simple, but well executed, blending the humour in Mavis' character, with her vulnerable and unstable state of mind. At points she is hilarious, especially in the opening scenes, where we see her moping around, playing her Nintendo Wii and drinking vast amounts of Diet Coke. This is then followed by her mulling over her return to her home town, playing her 'song' with Buddy in the car on repeat. Her unashamed pursuit of Buddy is also terribly funny to watch, albeit uncomfortable at times.
Yet such humour is complemented by a degree of ruefulness and poignancy as Mavis is a quite tragic character, clearly battling an alcohol addiction and in desperate need of affection and the love of another man, especially given her relatively recent divorce. The fragility to Mavis is explored and portrayed via her young adult novels. Despite being aimed at a much younger audience than herself, she effectively wrote them in the first person, recounting her own experiences with Buddy, really symbolising just how young at heart she is - which only truly highlights the need for her to grow up.
Despite such vulnerability to the role Mavis is extremely easy to relate to, quite oddly given she's a single woman battling personal issues. Yet she represents the everyday person - who just wants to be loved, desperately attempting to cling on to her past, almost in denial at being almost 40 years of age. And staring at her unwritten novel on a page merely stating 'Chapter One' is certainly one that holds much resonance with myself.
Yet for such a role to seem approachable and relatable, it requires a strong performance, and Theron is outstanding. Somehow shy of an Oscar nomination, Theron plays Mavis with sincerity and earnestness (and a touch of narcissism), yet is on edge throughout, really perfecting the vulnerable fragility to Mavis, as you just sit there waiting for her to crack and embarrass herself, anticipating a Bridesmaids style breakdown.
Young Adult is simply an endearing piece of cinema, one that certainly makes you laugh, but also one that, when contemplated long enough, can certainly make you cry, and, thankfully, it's no Juno.