Young Adult

by deerinthexenonarclights

Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman both struck it big with their synchronized breakout hit Juno so when it was announced that this film, Young Adult would be their reunion piece the news came with certain expectations. Like, for instance, would this be Juno 2: would it be another tale of teens cracking wise with wit well beyond their years, another moving look into the lives of new parents? While the title and trailer may suggest that on some level it simply isn’t the case, these two creative talents have too much more to give to go and make another movie in the same mould; they’re not stuck in the past or prone to repeating themselves but their protagonist here is.

 

When I see my parents fight,

Well I don’t wanna grow up.

They all go out a’ drinkin’ all night,

And I don’t wanna grow up.

Young adult novelist Mavis Gary’s life is, as we see in the chilly cold open, quite sticky: she sighs, spits, swallows and sleeps around in an effort to see out the day, anything except actually write. The credits sequence that follows informs us that this day is not an exception but the rule, he life a Sisyphean cycle of Dionysian debauchery, and it does this by having her constantly singing then rewinding the same song over and over on an old compilation cassette-tape as she drives back home. If the imagery isn’t enough to elucidate you to the movies metaphor than surely the existence of both a cassette tape and a cassette player are, her life isn’t just sticky it’s stuck.

 

I’d rather stay here in my room,

Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom.

I don’t want to live in a big ole tomb,

On Grand Street.

More specifically though Mavis is also stuck in a story; the high school fantasies that she writes are stolen directly from her life – she does as we all do, she writes what she knows – and this much is made obvious by the movies overlaying of scenes with her authorial narration. More important though is the fact that her idea of life is stolen straight back from her stories; she holds these “Sweet Valley High” style tropes up as truth though real life is plaintively not so simple. She also does this while also actively rejecting those normal suburban fantasies for a job, a house and a family; her hypocrisy the clearest indicator of her insanity. We all is us get caught up in our High School stories, which stereotype we are and which clique that assigns us to, and this literalistion of that phenomena leads to the realization of just how puerile it is, which appears to be the point of the film as a whole.

 

When I’m lying in my bed at night,

I don’t wanna grow up.

Nothin’ ever seems to turn out right,

I don’t wanna grow up.

What seems simple in synopsis is however much harder to endure in execution, the area that makes all the difference in a movie, and so what could have been a shallow one-note character instead becomes a complex and eternally ungraspable one. While some of the praise for this should go to the stunning but subtle screenplay from Cody, who more than proves wrong those who feel that her writing rests solely on witty one-liners, the majority of it is due for Charlize Theron who gives a very ‘down-south’ (read:ballsy) performance as said protagonist. Patton too plays a good cypher for the audience, offering wittier versions of our own thoughts on the plot back at us, while also maintaining the metaphor through his own character’s tragically trapped nature. Thou we see a lot of him in the film, a whole lot more than anyone besides his wife would want to, I still feel like more could have been done with his character; specifically the reveal of just who it was that beat on him back in High-School. This is Theron’s show though so having him relegated to simply supporting is fitting, and when the lead is this good it’s hard to complain about them getting all the screentime.

I don’t wanna have to shout it out,

I don’t want my hair to fall out,

I don’t want to be filled with doubt,

I don’t wanna grow up.

While this may seem like a startlingly easy role compared to some of the more excruciating work that she has taken on in the past, it may well have been harder due to how close it hits to home for her and, I imagine, for all women. Physically the performance doesn’t require Theron to stretch much out of her comfort zone but it does force her to embrace the entirety of that zone’s range, including the looks that she’d rather not reveal; she slides from slovenly to stunning from one scene to the next, thanks in part to a number of insightful insider mini-make-over scenes. This isn’t a light comedy role for cash in between headier dramas, this is no “Chipmunk’s” movie, Theron is both bold and brave here; her needy neurosis is pitch perfect pubescent, the perfection of her performance is really what makes the movie what it is.

 

When I see the Five ‘O Clock News,

I don’t wanna grow up.

Comb their hair and shine their shoes,

I don’t wanna grow up.

Ultimately though what it is is imperfect and all that authenticity is more than a little awkward for the audience. Thanks to Reitman’s compassionate tone we can empathise with Mavis but never necessarily like her, especially since the wife she is seeking to usurp is so stunningly cool. Romances that you root against aren’t necessarily compelling cinema, but when played for cringey comedy like they are here the conceit works; though it is a risky play, ballsy in the extreme. As is the ending of the film which subverts all expectation of evolution by having Mavis embrace her city mouse styling’s and shrug-off any potential lesson learned.

 

Stay Around in my old home town,

I don’t wanna put no money down,

I don’t wanna get me a big ole’ loan

Work my fingers to the bone.

That’s not much of a spoiler because this isn’t much of a plot-driven movie, you know exactly where it’s going to go overall but the scene by scene is still completely compelling. It’s not much of a comedy either because although the jokes written all hit and the crazy moments evoke a comedic response these are ultimately few and far between, with most scenes simply offering a slight-chuckle-worthy concept throughout. The drama too is underwhelming when it finally comes to a head, because again we can’t really care too much for the characters. All that said though this is a flawless film; it makes no obvious mistakes, it’s just that what it is trying to be isn’t obvious. Cody and Reitman have grown up and so in Young Adult they have given us their most mature movie yet, one that tells us just how hard  growing up is and how much it can complicate things; a message that both explains the inexplicability of this film and makes us aware of just how big an achievement it is.

I don’t want to float a broom,

Fall in love and get married then boom,

How the hell did it get here so soon?

I don’t wanna grow up!

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