FilmDecember 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm

‘Young Adult’ Is a One–Woman Show

Charlize Theron is one of the only things shining about Young Adult.

Sure, Young Adult may list Jason Reitman as its director and Diablo Cody as screenwriter, but the film’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of its star, Charlize Theron.

Theron is Mavis, a thirtysomething writer of a young adult fiction series. Having ditched small-town Mercury, Minnesota for Minneapolis, she returns home on a whim, after learning that her high school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), just had his first child. Her intention is not to visit or congratulate, though, it’s to attempt to win him back.

This selfishness drives virtually all of Mavis’s actions during her homecoming, from befriending a high school outcast (Patton Oswalt) to showing up to Buddy’s wife’s concert. Her singular focus on reclaiming the queen bee crown she wore proudly in high school and her rampant alcoholism make her simultaneously infuriating and hysterical, as she has no shame in saying or doing whatever she thinks it takes to get what she wants.

Theron is fantastic, and she better be, because she’s in every single scene of the movie. She completely inhabits her character and nearly pulls off the impossible: getting the audience to feel any sort of sympathy for Mavis. Alas, she can’t quite do it, and that’s not her fault, it’s Cody’s. She keeps the laughs coming, but Mavis is so one-note until the last few minutes of the film, that it’s too late to have a change of heart.

Thankfully, the supporting cast picks up some of the slack. Patrick Wilson is pitch-perfect as a high school stud turned family man, and Patton Oswalt’s Matt, who turns into Mavis’s partner in crime, actually does earn the audience’s sympathy. Everyone plays off one another believably, making the implausible situation feel surprisingly authentic.

In the end, though, it’s just good, not great. Even the impressive cast can’t lift the material to the next level. As a Theron showcase, the film succeeds, but on a whole it isn’t much more than 95 minutes of general amusement, and with a pedigree like the one Young Adult carries, that’s a disappointment.


3/5 stars
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Rated R, 95 minutes
See if you liked: Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)


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