I will soon be posting my pick for best movie of 2011. Despite this site being new, my not having seen a lot of even-well reviewed movies of 2011, and my snobbish tendency to pre- judge, I am nonetheless trying to even out the playing field by seeing just a few more movies before sealing the envelope.
“Young Adult” is the only Christmas season movie that I wanted to be sure to see during its theatrical release. Pat me on the back for making a wise choice. It re-teams director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody whose first collaboration was “Juno.” I actually saw “Juno” at a preview screening before any buzz, which I believe helped keep my mind clear. “Juno” went on to achieve much acclaim, awards, and boffo box office. While entertaining, I thought the movie aimed too high: its dialogue was too smart and hip for its characters (Ellen Page was not believable as a pregnant teenager), and I felt the subject (teen pregnancy) while deftly handled, was an opportunity for grandstanding rather than examination.
Bref, “Young Adult” is a far, far better film; I hope these two will collaborate more in the future.
Summary: it’s about a narcissistic young-adult fiction ghost-writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) whose Potemkin Village of a life is toppled when she receives an email announcing the birth of her ex-high school sweetheart/husband’s first baby. The “fame” she enjoyed in high school doesn’t match the “fame” she encourages others to believe she currently enjoys. She tortures herself by constantly looking at the photo of the new baby, and just like a zit that you can’t stop thinking about until you pop it, she heads off to her small hometown to reclaim the man she feels entitled to own, and by proxy the glory she enjoyed then will be restored, like those coronation scenes in “Middle Earth” movies I don’t see. I would like to point out that I don’t think it’s “baby fever” that compels her, rather, it’s that someone else has what she wants. I happen to be an expert on narcissists, having several in my family that I’ve been able to observe over many years, and I can assure you that Theron nails this aspect of her character.
Upon arrival in her hometown, she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who represents all the short, underachieving, unlucky guys we knew in high school and never think about again until we hear something bad has happened to them, then we look them up in the yearbook and say: “Ohhhh, hiiiimmmm.” Matt’s had a particularly rough time since high school which has bestowed him with Yoda-like wisdom (is that too mean?). He wastes said wisdom as he tries to dissuade Mavis from pursuing her quest. Dazzled by her beauty, he abandons his noble cause and becomes her accessory- in every meaning this implies.
I really liked this movie, so it may seem nitpicking to point out some shortcomings: Although Charlize Theron gives a superb performance, I believe she’s actually too beautiful to portray the character of Mavis. Every high school has its beautiful girls, but only a fraction of them look like supermodels. Theron’s beauty is so captivating, it actually distracts the audience, she steals the focus of every frame she’s in, even without makeup and poorly lit. I think an actress with a more approachable beauty, like Kristin Bell, would be more believable.
Second Nitpick: as an actor, you’re taught if an audience member ever speaks about the lighting, you haven’t done your job; the point being, one shouldn’t notice what is happening behind the scenes. Despite superb performances from Theron and Oswalt, and good support from Patrick Wilson and Elizabeth Reasor (as his wife), the movie is unevenly paced. I kept thinking “What a great screenplay!” which reminded me of the aforementioned lesson. Something seems to be missing here, and I can’t quite put my finger on it except for maybe this: during some of the best moments of the movie, I was the sole howl heard in the room. I saw it on Christmas Day with a group of Jewish senior ladies, but there were some young people in the audience who apparently didn’t get it. Be sure you see it with smart people.
So, while “Young Adult” won’t be my top pick, I highly recommend it. It’s original, has some devastatingly funny moments and observations, and one of the most beautiful women ever to have lived is in almost every frame.