Even though Jason Reitman is the director of Young Adult, and Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt are the leads, writer Diablo Cody comes across as the star and auteur of the film. She wrote Juno – which won her an Oscar and was a huge success – helped create The United States of Tara, and wrote Jennifer’s Body. As to be expected with any success from a larger than life female artist, the backlash was severe and cruel. In many ways Cody is commenting on her haters in Young Adult, a pitch black comedy about a ghost writer (Theron) who goes back to her hometown in the hopes of wrecking a marriage. Our review of the film on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Mavis Gary (Theron) is at a dead end. She’s been trying to date, but mostly has one night stands. She’s a drunk, lugs a two liter of diet coke with her while she writes, and is facing the end of her ghost writing job for a series of young adult books. She gets a baby announcement from old boyfriend Buddy Slade (Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and gets apoplectic. She decides to go back home to see if she can steal Buddy back from his wife.
Once she hits town she runs into Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), who is a cripple because he was assaulted severely as a high schooler. He got national attention because it was thought to be a hate crime, but that attention disappeared when it was revealed he wasn’t gay. Mavis tells everyone she’s in town for a real estate thing, but she tells the truth to Matt, and he thinks she’s insane. They begin a strange friendship based on their mutual love of alcohol and hate.
Mavis plots to spend time with Buddy, but their first meeting is brusque, even though she vamps and puts in a lot of work to look her best. Buddy allows her to hang around for a while and the go with Buddy’s wife to a show where Beth performs as an amateur drummer. Mavis has what she thinks is a moment with him, which fuels her to really step up her game.
Mavis is the ultimate “surrogate/not surrogate” character for Cody. People thought she got much of her dialogue from eavesdropping on teenagers, so she pokes fun at those critiques by having Mavis do that, and of course Mavis is a writer of teens. But – though it can get in the way of watching the film – it’s set up as a trap for Cody haters. Cody’s writing here is sharp, and this is a an almost great film. The sequences that show the effort Mavis goes through to ready herself for a date feels like something we’ve never seen on screen before – it’s moments like this that get you excited about the movie. And Mavis is a wholly original creation, and as is said in the supplements, we’ve seen a lot of films about man-childs, but this is one of the few films about a woman stuck in the past, and doing something terribly foolish to try and relive her glory days, but it doesn’t feel like simple role reversal.
And there is a lot to like about the movie, especially since it ends brilliantly. There’s a great sequence at the end of the movie where Mavis has a heart to heart with Matt’s sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe) that is one of the great pieces of cinema of the last year. This is a black comedy, and that end really gives the film the right exit.
Unfortunately the machinations of the narrative beggar belief, and the film straddles the line between reality and commentary on the genre. Patrick Wilson’s Buddy Slade character must be completely ignorant of having an attractive woman throw herself at him and it rings absolutely false. They need to have scenes together, but her advances don’t pass the sniff test – men who’ve been with women know when a woman is suggesting they have sex, and Mavis is laying it on so thick it’s not subtext. If Cody was using role reversal to suggest the fallacy of this sort of character – the characters who don’t get that the Ducky’s of the world are pining – that would be one thing, but it just makes you very sentient of the mechanics of the narrative.
Similarly, Oswalt does great work as Matt Freehauf, and their friendship is believable (as Oswalt says his character is in love with her, but doesn’t know if he likes her), and when the film moves into its third act something happens between them that makes you all too aware of the effort it took to get there. Jason Reitman does good work with the material, and he’s a good yin to Cody’s yang – he didn’t get the love from Juno that Cody did, but he really helped make that film work. And Reitman is a smart director, he’s good with the material, but this gets close enough to greatness to be frustrating.
Paramount presents Young Adult in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. The transfer is excellent, as to be expected. The film comes with a commentary by director Jason Reitman, DP Eric Steelberg and First AD/associate Producer Jason A. Blumenfeld – shockingly no Diablo Cody, and she’s missed. There’s a making of called “Misery Loves Company” (17 min.) that’s got most of the cast and crew talking about how the film is interesting for its darkness. “The Awful Truth: Deconstructing a Scene” (6 min.) walks through a bar scene between Theron and Oswalt. There’s also a Q&A with Reitman and Janet Maslin, and six deleted scenes (7 min.).