By B. Michael Rubin
South African beauty Charlize Theron, now in her mid 30s, is an engaging and versatile performer. She is a rare example of a true beauty, a famous star who is also a fine actress. She has exhibited her talents on the Hollywood screen for 15 years in over 30 films. Ms. Theron has been recognized for her exceptional acting talent, winning an Oscar for her haunting portrayal of a true-life killer in Monster. She was nominated for another Oscar for North Country two years after winning for Monster.
It is often true that when we see a new film, there are expectations regarding its quality. If we know that the film or an actress has won an Oscar award in the past, our expectations will be higher. In the case of Young Adult, I had high expectations, as I’m not only a fan of Ms. Theron’s work, but also of the writer and director of the new film. Unfortunately, Ms. Theron’s fine skills go to waste in her latest film, Young Adult (Jovens Adultos).
The film was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. They are the same pair responsible for creating the film, Juno, a wonderful film from 2007, which won Ms. Cody an Oscar for her script, and Mr. Reitman an Oscar nomination for his directing.
In Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, an unhappy writer of teen fiction, who is having trouble writing the final book in a series of books, probably because the series is no longer popular and has been canceled by her boss. The movie opens on Mavis face down in bed after a night of heavy drinking, setting the stage for this frequent event. In a moment of typically crazed spontaneity, Mavis decides to leave Minneapolis, where she lives in an expensive apartment, to take a trip back to her small home town of Mercury, Minnesota. The rest of the movie takes places in Mercury, where Mavis attempts to steal her old high school boyfriend, Buddy, away from his wife and new baby.The entire premise of the movie is a little weak, as Mavis has no reason to believe she can reunite with Buddy. Since the entire movie is based on this ill-advised and unethical pursuit, it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for Ms. Theron’s character.
As the movie unfolds at a rather slow pace, we eventually learn that even though her parents are still living in Mercury, Mavis hasn’t bothered to call them to tell them she’s in town. When she finally visits her parents, we learn Mavis is divorced, and her parents still keep a photo of her ex-husband on the wall of their home. They are quick to report what a nice guy he was, leading us to believe Mavis has had an unstable past. All of this, not to mention her excessive drinking, point to one conclusion – Mavis is more than just depressed or confused in her love life, she’s an alcoholic who engages in numerous anonymous sexual encounters, and simply put, is not a very nice person.
Although bluntly realistic, it may be difficult to watch a movie where the main character is not likable. There are exceptions, for example the character Charlize Theron played in Monster. That film, however, was based on a true story. Thus we watch the events unfold, like watching any action film about a killer, waiting for the murders to stop and the killer to be brought to justice.
The problem with Young Adult is Mavis is rude and arrogant and unkind, even to her dog, and yet she’s totally unaware of how offensive she can be. She was enormously popular in high school, even being elected as prom queen. Yet everyone she meets in Mercury remembers her while she remembers none of them. As if that weren’t enough, she is quick to point out what idiots they are for staying in Mercury and not moving to Minneapolis as she did, a city so big in the imagination of these small town folks that they refer to it as “The City.”
Even worse, unlike a killer who is eventually caught, Mavis never seems to learn from her mistakes. She has been delusional the entire film about her chances for reconciliation with Buddy, and when she learns she has no chance of stealing Buddy, her recourse is to seduce her drinking partner, a disabled man who knows this could be his only chance to sleep with a woman as beautiful as Mavis. At the end of the film she is humiliated in front of her parents and old friends, when Buddy and his wife tell her the only reason they’ve been nice to her was because they felt sorry for her. In the final scene, Mavis returns to Minneapolis seemingly unchanged.
Besides this sad and lonely main character, there were elements of her story that were introduced too late. For example, we only learn halfway through the movie that Mavis is divorced and that she’s writing the last book in the series and could soon be unemployed. Knowing that at the beginning would have made more sense for her character’s motivation. Also, we only learn late in the movie that she had a miscarriage with Buddy’s child years ago, an important factor in her desire to reunite with Buddy.
The writer and director assembled a wonderful cast to work with Ms. Theron, however. Buddy is played by Patrick Wilson, an outstanding American actor who has appeared in such films as HBO’s Angels in America, playing the son of Meryl Streep. He recently appeared in Morning Glory, as the husband of the actress Rachel McAdams. The Young Adult cast also includes Elizabeth Reaser as Buddy’s wife. She’s known for her role as Esme Cullen in all three of the Twilight films. Also worth seeing is the character of Ms. Theron’s disabled drinking buddy, played by Patton Oswalt, who does a wonderful job in his first film appearance. As the only character willing to tell Mavis the truth, he was the most interesting and well-written character in the film.
There were one or two poignant moments in the script that point to a deep understanding of human nature, but they’re nearly lost in numerous cliches . These interesting moments could easily be missed as they slip by quickly, which is a sign of good writing, as there is no need to broadcast an important message. For example, when Mavis finally visits her parents, she tells them she thinks she’s an alcoholic. Like many parents, hers have no idea how to handle this statement, so they simply ignore it.
Let’s hope this writing and directing team come up with something better in the future, for example a character we can like and sympathize with more than just to feel sorry for her, or at least someone who learns something during the course of the film.Director: Jason Reitman Writer: Diablo Cody Starring: Charlize Theron Now available as DVD rental in Curitiba
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.