Young Adult; A Lost Soul To Root For

Young Adult 2011
“Sometimes in order to heal…a few people need to get hurt.”

Young Adult 2011The advertising campaign for Young Adult gave audiences the misconception that this would be another midlife crisis comedy. It’s not. Its realistic honesty delves into dark territory, digging deep into a place we’ve all been to, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Young Adult 2011

Mavis Garey (Charlize Theron) is a walking red flag of dysfunction. She’s the 37-year-old ghost writer of a young adult series soon to be canceled. She starts her days chugging Diet Coke for breakfast, lethargically exercising with her Wii and half-heartedly caring for her pint-sized pup as if he were a Tamagotchi. Mavis glues herself to her laptop each morning, attempting to muster up inspiration after nights of heavy drinking. This is no Carrie Bradshaw; Mavis is an internally decaying alcoholic trying translate her former “prom queen” image and stature into present day. The film offers few redeeming qualities about her, and it’s a struggle to empathize with her deplorable attitude and self-destructive nature. But that’s the point.

Young Adult 2011

After uncovering a birth announcement email from her high school sweet heart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), Mavis concocts a delusional plan to win her old beau (happily married with child) back and save him from the monotony she assumes his life has become in their suburban, “hick” hometown of Mercury, Minnesota.

Written by Diablo Cody, and directed by Jason Reitman, this is the best screenplay Cody has produced to date. It’s void of the “Diablo Cody-isms” so prevalent in Juno–those quirky one-liners that seem more forced than natural. The dialogue in Young Adult feels completely authentic to the characters.

Young Adult 2011

This isn’t the stereotypical story of a pretty girl trying to win back her true love or undergo some journey to self-discovery. Her detached attitude and blatant rudeness towards strangers raises eyebrows; her visible disdain for the strange men she wakes up to “the morning after” reveals an expression of hopeless despair, as she prepares to get through yet another day. Her attempts to win back Buddy are tiresome, desperate and uncomfortable, and show a complete disregard for normal boundaries.

Charlize Theron Young Adult

Mavis and the audience become aware of her emotional disorders almost simultaneously.

“It’s really difficult for me to be happy. And then for other people, it just seems so simple. I know. They just grow up, and they’re so… fulfilled.”

Wearing Buddy’s high school letterman jacket in itself an odd and inappropriate gesture – she tries to tell her parents that she may be an alcoholic, but they dismiss her out of hand. She has surrounded herself with people who don’t help her, which makes it even harder for her to help herself.

Charlize Theron Young Adult

Overwhelmed, emotionally distraught and at the end of her mental rope, she finally experiences a total breakdown at the end of the movie. Her impulsive and downright shocking eruption brought me out of the theater and completely immersed me in the movie. I felt like I was one of the attendees at that party, watching real people and not actors. She’s been coping with a severe level of depression (or possibly borderline personality disorder?) with alcohol and denial.

How did she not get nominated for an Oscar based on that scene alone?

It’s reminiscent of how abusive everyone was to Britney Spears years ago with the head shaving catastrophe to being photographed walking barefoot in gas stations to other oddities caught by paparazzi. She became a running joke for years until the world started to pull back and say, “Wait a minute, take it easy, this woman has actually medical issues. It’s not funny anymore.”

So why see Young Adult? Movies these days rarely can accomplish this sense of raw emotion that surpasses the screen and shine light on a mental reality we tend to hide.

Charlize Theron Young Adult

Charlize Theron Young Adult

16 thoughts on “Young Adult; A Lost Soul To Root For

  1. Fantastic review! I love the movie and Theron’s work in this one was just mesmerizing. I felt for Mavis and I really hope she realized in the end how broken she really was.

  2. What a terrific post! Your review is gorgeously written and really piqued my interest. This movie sounds like a harrowing picture of alcoholism, among other things. I am adding this to my “must see” list.

  3. Love that “It’s really difficult for me to be happy ” quote. Young Adult is one of my favorites from 2011, I showed it to family, but they didn’t get the appeal. I think it works best watching it by yourself, so viewer can enjoy every facial expression and line of dialogue. Funny thing is Charlize Theron is kind of Mavis-ish for real, in funny or die videos, and this interview:

  4. Great review. I loved this film probably because it was so hard to like Mavis Gray for anything redeeming about her, but in the end, there’s a certain sense of sympathy you feel for her in one heartbreaking scene that will probably go down in Theron’s book as one of her best scenes ever.

  5. I agree with everyone else that’s commented here, this is a really good review of a really good movie. I liked Young Adult when I first saw it, but after letting it sit for a few months, I now love it. Where was Theron’s Oscar nom? Yeesh.

  6. I did not like this movie when I first saw it, but your review did make some very valid points about this character. I just had a hard time finding stuff about her that was interesting. I just thought of her as being a bitch and nothing more. I agree that she may have a lot of problems but why should I care about her. If she did one thing to redeem herself, then maybe I would. I do plan to rewatch this again very soon

    • She wasn’t a redeemable character by any means, but I wanted her to be so badly. She had a moment of clarity in the end, but for only a minor second. She’s most definitely a lost soul, but it’s because she’s been surrounded by people her whole life who feed her illness or ignore it. By the time she meets people who tell her otherwise, it’s too little too late :\

    • I found her interesting because at first you might think she’s just “being a bitch,” but then you realize that the bitchiness is a symptom of her psychosis. She’s clearly depressed, dealing with substance abuse, and possibly battling an undiagnosed pathology (narcissistic personality disorder).

      The viewer can relate to the mid-life crisis struggle of “What am I doing with my life/I’m not where I thought I’d be;” the need to recognize a “slump” as possibly indicative of a more serious problem; and/or the reaction of bystanders to someone who may need real help. I thought the most powerful moment of the movie was her breakdown in front of the large crowd. I felt like I was part of that crowd – deeply uncomfortable because you can see this woman’s mental state shatter, but you don’t know how to react. As a result, most just pretend not to see it.

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