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Young Adult (2011)
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/13/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/15/2012
One of the toughest characters to write in fiction is the one which the reader will love to hate. This has to be someone who does bad things and had a bad attitude, but because of something in their behavior or demeanor, we end up liking them. Be it someone who says whatever they want, or does whatever they want, there's something in their bad behavior which we admire, maybe even envy, and despite the fact that we can't approve of what they do, we like them anyway. These characters often occupy secondary roles in movies or books. Young Adult attempts to place this character in the lead role, and the results are a bit dicey.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is at a cross-roads in her life. She lives in a nice apartment in Minneapolis with her dog and she makes a nice living ghost-writing a series of young adult novels. But, the series is coming to an end and she's received her assignment to write the final book. As Mavis is mulling this over, she gets an e-mail announcing that her high-school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), has become a father. Mavis decides that it's her destiny to travel to her hometown and reunite with Buddy. So she drives there and checks into a hotel. She contacts Buddy and makes plans to meet him. While getting drunk at a local bar, she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate which she barely remembers. She reveals her plan to Matt, who tells her to just go home. But, Mavis is having none of that, as she is determined that despite the fact that Buddy is married and a new father, they are soulmates and will be together.
Young Adult comes from Director Jason Reitman and Writer Diablo Cody, the team responsible for the 2007 hitJuno. I found Juno to be vastly overrated and in hindsight, I think that had a lot more to do with Ellen Page's performance than with the writing and directing. Despite my dislike for Juno, I've liked Reitman's other movies Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air. But, again due to my feelings about Juno, I wasn't looking forward to a re-teaming of Reitman and Cody for Young Adult. The result is a movie which is better than I thought it was going to be, but still deeply flawed.
As I've made my dislike for Juno apparent, I'll start by saying a few positive things about Young Adult. With her script, Cody has put a new spin on an old idea. Mavis has returned to her hometown to try and put her life back on track. She remembers it as being small and useless. But, due to the consumeritization and branding of America, the town has every franchise and convenience that one could want. It's understandable that Mavis doesn't feel fulfilled by her career, but I liked the notion that she was the voiced behind a series of novels for young girls. Cody is making two points here -- 1. these book series have gotten out of control (no one wants to write a stand-alone novel for kids anymore), and 2. being a ghost writer, no one knows that Mavis has done the work, much in the same way that a screenwriters voice can get lost in a movie. The movie also makes a nice point when Mavis asks her parents for help and they simply ignore her. I really admire the fact that the movie never softens Mavis -- she is who she is.
But, that also the film's biggest problem. Mavis remains an interesting character throughout the film, but she is so damaged and selfish that it's very difficult for the audience to become invested in her. She comes to town with the intention of being a homewrecker and rarely relinquishes. We keep waiting for her softer side to come through, but it doesn't. She verbally abuses Matt, but he has such a thick skin from years of verbal and physical abuse, that he takes it in stride. Mavis reminds me of a female version of Billy Bob Thornton's character from Bad Santa. The difference is that Bill Bob was so over the top that we couldn't take him seriously and thus he was funny. Mavis is a spoiled mean girl who has come home to take what she sees as hers and the reality of this makes her more sad and pitiful than funny. Unfortunately, part of this reality is shattered by the casting of Charlize Theron in the lead role. Don't get me wrong, she's a very good actress, but she wasn't right for this role. We watch Mavis live like a slob and eat nothing but junk food, but you know what? -- We're still looking at Charlize Theron. I get the feeling that the script didn't call for Mavis to be fit and beautiful. Also, I don't if comedy, even dark comedy, is Theron's forte. In contrast, Patton Oswalt does a very good job of balancing humor and pathos in his role.
In the end, Young Adult is an interesting experiment which doesn't work. It's like a sequel to Mean Girls which shows what happens when a high school queen grows up and her life hasn't turned out the way which she expected. There are some well-drawn characters here and some funny moments, but when the viewer feels totally cut off from the main character, the movie suffers. (Although, I must say that Reitman's taste in music has improved. It was great to hear The Replacements and Suicidal Tendencies in a movie.)
Young Adult made me crave fast food on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing little grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The color palette is realistic, skewing slightly towards brighter colors in some scenes. The picture is fairly detailed for a DVD and artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dramedy, we don't get a lot of dynamic effects here. The music in the film sounds very good and often fills the speakers. There are some moments when the stereo effects alert us to sounds off-screen, and the surround sound effects work well in some crowd scenes.
The Young Adult DVD contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jason Reitman, Director of Photography Eric Steelberg, and First Assistant Director/Associate Producer Jason A. Blumenfield. "The Awful Truth: Deconstructing a Scene" (6 minutes) examines a conversation between Mavis and Matt through text from the script and comments from Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman, Patton Oswalt, and Charlize Theron. The DVD contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 2 minutes. All three of these are short and don't include any new ideas or characters. In fact, the last one is simply a shot of Mavis and Matt at the grocery store.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long