The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.