Young Adult is a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. Critics have described it as a train wreck that is impossible to turn away from. Actually, it starts out more like that strange aunt who has a little too much to drink during the holidays and reveals all her secrets, and then it ends up as a full train crash.
Charlize Theron is wicked perfection as Mavis Gary, a 37 year-old woman who never grew up. Mavis is stuck living in the past glow of what she thinks was her peak, those high school glory years when she was 17, beautiful, popular and dating cool-guy Buddy Slade. Everything seems to have gone downhill from there as we catch up with Mavis sleeping in yesterday’s clothes face-down in a messy apartment with the Kardashians rambling on the television in the background.
There is a parallel drawn between Mavis’ life and the fictional young adult series she is a ghostwriter for. As the series ends she could choose to make a change in her life but instead she decides to visit her hometown and go after Buddy (who is now married with a baby on the way). Usually we would like to think that people learn from their mistakes but as Mavis so wonderfully illustrates, not everyone cares to.
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have a knack for edge. The question asked is how much can we possibly hate ourselves? As it turns out, a lot. This is shown when Mavis picks out her blonde hair that once earned her the title of “Best Hair” in high school. However, as Young Adult is a character study, it is the performances that are the most essential to the film. Charlize Theron fully commits to her role, as always, managing to get across Mavis’ bitterness and her brokenness at the same time.
The most cringe-worthy scene is Mavis’ breakdown at Buddy’s baby shower as she hears for the first time that it is everyone else that feels sorry for her and not the other way around. It is Patton Oswalt that stands out, though. He grounds the film and pulls out the most touching performance as a former classmate of Mavis who became disabled after being the victim of a hate crime in high school.
Sure Young Adult is snarky and has no redemption for the main character (something we do not see much of in Hollywood films) but more than that there is an underlying desperation and wrenching sadness that is frightening because it could become all too familiar fast.