‘Young Adult’ Movie Review
Young Adult, for all the moments it works, is a movie I’d recommend to a film student, a critic, or an aspiring screenwriter. But for the feeling you’re left with when you walk out of the theater, like you’ve just witnessed a train wreck with no survivors, I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual movie goer. Go see The Muppets, or Hugo, and let your cousin from the film academy tell you the funnier lines.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a thirty-seven year old young adult ghost writer who lives alone with her dog in an apartment in Minneapolis, holding onto the fact she got out of her small town and made it to the big city. The first ten minutes of the film perfectly sets up her character as we watch her down diet coke straight from the two liter bottle, play an unenthused Wii dance game, and wander over to her laptop to tap out a few paragraphs of what will be the last book in her YA series. The windows we can see peeking out behind her word dock are perfect, Okcupid and an online jean store, and they mark the first example of what throughout the movie is the great use of brands to wordlessly communicate a message. Whenever Mavis has the TV on Kendra or the Kardashians fill the screen, mirroring, or even validating her vapidity, and nothing has to be said as she coasts down the streets of her old town taking in the giant Staples, Chilis, and KFC-TacoBell-Pizza Hut hybrid.
Mavis returns to her hometown, checking in a hotel to avoid her parents, when she gets the birth announcement of her high school boyfriends’ new daughter and decides to win him back to save him for the monotony of small town life.
Her first night back she bumps into the movie’s one redeeming character, Matt, who Mavis initially can’t place but eventually realizes is “the hate crime guy.” When they were in high school a group of guys beat him nearly to death because they thought he was gay, leaving him with a limp and a cane twenty years later. Matt instantly acts as the voice of reason against Mavis’ plan, pointing out he’s a happily married man, though Mavis ignores him they do become fast friends. He’s able to be someone she can lean on while at the same time calling her out.
There are moments you could pity Mavis, from her parents’ non-reaction to her declaration, “I think I’m an alcoholic,” to her nervous hair-pulling tic, to the fact her YA book about a high school senior is really a fictionalized account of what she thinks her 37-year old life should be, but she’s just too awful to sympathize with. The movie’s end doesn’t allow for any catharsis, great change, or shocking conclusion, and I assume this is a result of an attempt to buck the traditional ending, to have an arc that mirrors real life where demons can’t be exercised in an hour and a half. But as an audience member, I wanted something to come from the film, some kind of growth or understanding on Mavis’ part, and without that it was like watching an extra long episode of an E! reality show, where you know the star will just make the same mistakes next week.