Young Adult Review

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) had it all in high school. She was tall, beautiful, the prom queen, and had a jock boyfriend to match. Fast forward twenty years and she’s moved from suburban Mercury, Minnesota, to the metropolis of Minneapolis. She lives in a swanky condo with a tiny, fluffy dog and is the author of a popular teen series.



But her apartment is a mess, she’s an uncredited ghost writer to a series that has been cancelled, divorced, and trichotillomaniac. She drinks an awful lot and has strings of one night stands.


When her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) emails a picture of his newborn daughter, Mavis is sure that it’s a cry for help. He still lives in the small-town suburbs, and Mavis vows to go back to Mercury and save him from his baby, his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), and himself.


Back in her old hometown, Mavis sticks out like a sore, sexy thumb. She goes back to her old haunts wearing a revealing dress, and meets Matt (Patton Oswalt), known through high school as the Hate Crime Guy because he was beaten-up and the national papers thought that he was gay. High school really was the time of his life, because now he’s legally disabled, his legs, pelvis, and genitals pretty well malformed. The two form an alliance of sorts, as she confides in him and he attempts to dissuade her from her mission, and she drinks a lot of his home brewed bourbon.


Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody cast an astute eye over growing up and getting out. Mavis got out, but hasn’t grown up, whereas everyone else seems to have done the opposite. They ask what makes a person ‘successful’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and whether that really matters. It would be too easy to write off Mavis as a terrible person, but when Sandra (Collette Wolfe) says that everyone in Mercury is ‘fat and dumb’ she’s sort of right. People in Mercury don’t wear fabulous dresses like Mavis does, and they aren’t going to change the world. If we as an audience are OK with that, then we should accept Mavis’s want to do something else as well.



The script is taut and acerbic, with much less of the cutesy, too-witty one-liners that cut the Juno (2007) audience. Much of the humour comes from laughing at Mavis as well as with her, whether she’s pretending to text whilst waiting alone in a bar, or the voice-over from the novella she’s writing says something particularly cutting about Beth. It’s a more understated and realistic script too. In particular, Mavis’s public breakdown wasn’t a polished, impressive explosion.

“It’s silk, it’s fucked!” isn’t likely to go down in meltdown history, but it highlights the division between Mavis and Beth, and reminds us of the time when the only retort you can think of is “yeah, well, you shut up!”

The only gripe was that Reitman and Cody gave Mavis an out during this speech, to soften up her backstory and make her slightly less unappealing to the audience. When the rest of the film is so sharp and uncompromising, it seemed a shame to put this unnecessary slide in. We’re already on board with Mavis, at such a late point in the game, we don’t need a reason to feel sorry for her or to excuse her behaviour, and it cheapened her character somewhat.


Mavis is insensitive, self-centred and manipulative, but Theron makes her more than watchable, almost to the point of likeable. Yes, she’s crazy and delusional, but she was fascinating and funny to watch, and for better or worse (probably worse) Mavis is a character that people can relate to. When hanging around the woods out the back of their old school, Mavis is wearing one of Buddy’s old sweaters, and she recounts how the previous night they’d made out on the porch, it was passionate, and then he’d given her his sweater, when in actuality she kissed him on the lips, he pulled back, and she found the sweater in her old bedroom.

Her quasi-friendship with Matt is the heart of the movie, as opposites who don’t really teach each other anything, but serve purposes for as long as they’re in proximity. It’s an honest portrayal of self-serving friendships, convenient and disposable because both parties think they’re better than the other. Oswalt’s performance gave Matt sensitivity and bitterness in equal measure.


With a sharp script, lots of laughs, a tight commentary and really great performances, Young Adult is well worth watching. Just because you’ve gotten older, it doesn’t mean that you’ve grown up.

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2 Responses


    Nice review of this film – a much darker take on what could have been a fairly light-hearted theme, but all the better for it. Also an interesting portrayal of the snobbery which ex-residents often feel towards their home-town. The poster images made it look like a laugh-a-minute comedy, but the humour tended to be much more subtle, even cynical, and yes, Theron was perfect for the part.


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