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Baggage and Bourbon, Neat
6/10 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer Diablo Cody and Director Jason Reitman reunite for the first time since their breakout hit "Juno". In that fine film, we were treated to many optimistic and sarcastic life lessons from a very likable, and easy to cheer for, teenage girl. This time around we get the caustic, childlike self-centeredness of a mid-30's alcoholic sadly trying to recapture the magic of her high school years as the prom queen dating the coolest guy.4 years ago
Ms. Cody and Mr. Reitman deserve much credit for steering clear of the Hollywood traditions of redemption, remorse, and turning over a new leaf. In fact, we probably dislike Mavis (Charlize Theron) even more as the movie ends than we did in the film's first 5 minutes, if that's even possible. It takes courage as a filmmaker to have a lead character who is disliked through the entire movie, not just by the people in her life, but also by the audience. It also takes a special actress to pull this off. If you saw Theron in her Oscar winning role in "Monster", believe me when I say that she is equally unsympathetic here ... though she does commit fewer actual crimes.
This film is erroneously marketed as a smart comedy. While there are some funny elements, it's difficult to find much humor in someone who is so unstable and narcissistic. Wisely, the script provides us with Matt (Patton Oswalt) as the voice of reason. He sees through the Mavis mask and speaks directly in his attempts to divert her from her plan. That plan is to break up the marriage of her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). Oh yeah, he just happens to be happily married (Elizabeth Reaser) with a newborn baby.
The best scenes of the film are between Mavis and Matt. She is oblivious to her negative effect on others, while he shoots her straight while avoiding his own harsh reality. See, Matt was the victim of a vicious hate crime, which left his leg (and other things) mangled. His own view of life is why he can see right through Mavis and her issues. While I so admire the basis of the script, I just believe there is a missing element. The element of hope and optimism. Heck, even when Mavis admits she "might be an alcoholic", her parents shrug it off and change topics. Sometimes crying out for help just isn't enough.
The film is worth seeing for the performances of Theron and Oswalt, as well as for the unique script. Just don't get tricked into believing it's some laugh riot with a fairy tale ending. Mavis is a ghost writer for teen novels, and she writes the latest as she lives this nightmare of a trip back home. My only real question ... is she mature enough to write for teens?
Theron Delivers the Goods as the Unrepentant Queen of Small-Town Mean
8/10 Without an iota of irony, Charlize Theron finally uses her intimidating beauty for pure Machiavellian evil, and the results are fortuitous in this dark-hued 2011 comedy, the latest collaboration of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno"). She's absolutely spot-on terrific playing Mavis Gary, the condescending, hateful high school girl who comes back to Mercury, her podunk hometown nearly two decades later. Mavis is no Blanche Dubois-type character whose ladylike beauty has faded into a gauzy romantic delusion. No, Mavis is still one hot babe and very much the complete narcissist she was as a teenager, emotionally stunted despite her relative worldliness having moved to Minneapolis to become a ghostwriter of a series of teen novels.4 years ago
It's not surprising she finds success writing for an adolescent audience since she still defines her life with teenage-level priorities and fantasies. As she has proved with "Juno", Cody is thoroughly fluent with this perspective, but the twist is that this time, it's coming from a jaded 37-year-old woman. Even though Mavis is a divorcee who lives in a high-rise apartment with a toy dog and can easily get any man she wants, she is triggered by a birth announcement email she receives from her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade and becomes fixated on getting him back all these years later. It doesn't matter that he's happily married and perfectly content living in Mercury. She concocts a scheme to make herself so alluring that he will want to run away with her. Normally, this would be an excuse for broad comedy machinations, but Theron is so gorgeous that it makes her shameless attempts at seduction all the more edgily desperate.
It's a narrowly developed plot for sure, but surprisingly, what enriches the proceedings is the unexpected relationship Mavis develops with Matt Freehauf, a sad-sack former classmate whose sole claim to notoriety was being the victim of a hate crime when he was beaten up and left for dead by a group of jocks who assumed he was gay. He has been left crippled, living in Mercury with his sister making his own home-brewed bourbon and putting together mix-and-match action figures. That Mavis and Matt connect is all the more intriguing since they were at opposite ends of the social spectrum back in school, and their present-day bond is also fueled by her obvious alcoholism, a point that is overlooked by her befuddled parents who wish to think of Mavis as the flawless pretty daughter of their own deluded fantasies. The story evolves in the direction you would expect but not before certain revelations come to light in a tortuous scene at the baby-naming party Buddy and his sensible wife Beth have with all their relatives and close friends in attendance.
Beyond Theron's fearless work and intentionally deadpan line delivery, there is comedian Patton Oswalt's surprisingly affecting performance as Matt. I only know him from his recurring role as a comical sad-sack on the sitcom "King of Queens", so it's surprising to see the amount of texture he brings to this role. As Buddy, Patrick Wilson once again plays the sought-after himbo, but this time, his character's unshaven, small-town modesty comes across as more contrite with his character's feelings toward Mavis left quite elliptical. Elizabeth Reaser ("Sweet Land") isn't given that much to do as Beth, probably by intention, but Collette Wolf has a few impactful moments as Matt's insulated sister still idolizing Mavis after all these years. As he showed with "Juno" and "Up in the Air", Reitman shows a deft hand with actors playing flawed characters who try to manipulate their circumstances but fall short of their vaunted expectations.
8/10 This film is highly recommended.4 years ago
Finally a holiday movie comes along that dares to ask, " Can a high school prom queen steal her happily married ex-boyfriend from his wife and newborn child and find true love? " From the team that brought us the classic comedy, Juno, comes the wickedly entertaining, and to some, offensive Young Adult.
Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, this dark comedy explores the aspirations of a beautiful, vain, and selfish woman as she schemes to breakup a marriage and reclaim her former sweetheart, Buddy. Now divorced, Mavis Gary ( Charlize Theron ), a ghostwriter of teen literature conveniently found in the YA section of bookstores everywhere, has never grown up and never had the life she felt destined to have. ( After all, she was voted Best Hair in her high school yearbook! ) Her life is in ruins, an eternal victim of herself. She decides to return to her small hometown hoping to snare her former sweetheart ( nicely downplayed by Patrick Wilson ) and with that in mind, live some of the glories of her past life. As Mavis mentions in one scene, "Love conquers all. "Haven't you seen The Graduate? " She lives in a fantasy world, clouded by booze.
Giving her a reality check about her plans is a dweeb from the past, Matt Freehauf ( Patton Oswalt ), whom Mavis meets at a local bar. She doesn't so much rekindle their friendship as she never had time for him before, just not in her league back then. "Oh, you're that hate crime guy," she says when they meet. Insensitive, yes. That's Mavis, and yes, Matt was permanently injured in a gay hate crime during his senior year, although he wasn't gay at all. Shades of irony! ( Not that there's anything wrong with that, yada, yada!) Alcohol (and there's plenty in use when Mavis is around ) brings these two lost souls together, that and Mavis' far- fetched dreaming.
Theron has the difficult role of making such a repulsive and mean-spirited woman, if not likable, at least, tolerable. She never tries to ingratiate herself. Instead, she depicts a mean girl caught in the throngs of arrested development and expects the movie audience to deal with it. Her acting choices work beautifully inside and out. Theron uses her expressive beauty and sexual allure to hide Mavis' twisted and unpleasant traits. Hopefully, this honest and compelling performance won't turn off Academy voters due to its nasty portrayal of its anti-heroine. It's a wonderful job of acting.
Oswalt gives a fully dimensional comic portrait of a small town loser type with bigger dreams. He's living with his sister. He's alone. He's Mavis' conscience and he's working overtime. He's the voice of reason ( and the sensible voice of the movie audience as well. ). Oswalt plays his character as an endearing slug, a man-child full of sage advice and bitter disappointment. It is a finely honed comic performance.
Cleverly scripted, Young Adult is filled with smart one-liners that advance the action and are keeping with their flawed characters. Yet the film carries with it a more serious tone, not the laugh-a-minute movie one would suspect from the trailer. The characters and their situations verge on the real with the comically surreal. In an uncomfortable but pivotal scene, Mavis addresses Buddy's married life with consoling words and advice that " we can beat this thing together" and leave his KenTacoHut world behind. Cody's sharply observed and cynical view of small town life is imbued in her characters and may be distasteful to some moviegoers, although I found this film quite amusing and droll. The only objection to the film was in two of the film's final scenes ( which were effectively done but inaccurate to the characters' true motivations and actions).
Reitman is again drawn to damaged characters in his leading roles as he had successfully done with films like Juno and Up in the Air. He is relentless in his ability to make such complicated people completely fascinating as they free fall into despair. He makes their journey filled with ironic and satirical possibilities, making the negative positively comic in tone.
Young Adult resists the sweet rosy side of life. It humorously embraces the sad fatalistic notion of our everyday existence, supplanting upbeat and unattainable desires with a refreshingly downbeat sensibility. And that's seems very grown-up to me. GRADE: B+
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Not quite up to the hype...
6/10 This is one of those films you read about and really look forward to; but, once seen, you realize that, while good, it's not quite worthy of the build up.4 years ago
Charlize Theron is quite good and makes the most of the script she has to work with. As always, hers eyes, facial expression and body language all help her bring life to the role.
Patton Oswalt also does a star turn as a bit of conscience for Charlize's character.
The story is well told, albeit a bit of a stretch. For someone reaching back to her past for a lost love, Charlize's character is quite believable; it's her long ago beau, Patrick Wilson, that's not quite up to snuff. Given that these two play off each other for a great deal of the film, it would be nicer to have had a better performer opposite her.
That said, it's worth watching, though probably a bit depressing for many viewers.
Reitman and Cody strike again
8/10 When Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody struck gold with "Juno" in 2007, they did so with a rare combination of contemporary wit, quirkiness and heart. Their four-year reunion in "Young Adult" won't be nearly as heralded, but it might arguably be a better film.4 years ago
Although ironic when juxtaposed with its main character, a 37-year-old who hasn't gotten over her high school sweetheart, Reitman and Cody display obvious evidence of maturation. The subject and humor are decidedly darker, and the emotional energy more raw and challenging.
Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, perhaps one of film's most hopelessly pathetic protagonists. Before giving the opening credit sequence its cue, Reitman puts Theron to work and paints a clear picture of spiraling drunken loneliness, reality TV and apathy toward responsibility. Appropriately, she's a young-adult fiction writer for a dwindling book series who's also a former prom queen. Theron is perfect for the role with her combination of in- concealable beauty and dramatic prowess. Mavis never becomes a caricature under her watch.
Unable to get past the fact that her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) just had a baby, Mavis flees her depressing cyclical lifestyle in Minneapolis for her home town of Mercury, Minn. with the intention of winning him back.
Mavis' delusional and deceitful quest to be a home-wrecker proves maddening through much of the film at the slow-burn pace Reitman has dictated, and it becomes obvious that at some point the bubble on her misguided journey will burst into an ugly mess. Yet despite this foreseeable direction, the climax proves stirring and not without a set of surprises.
Adding to the complexity of Mavis reclaiming her past is Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate she barely noticed because they were miles apart on the social spectrum. The two bond over their appreciation for (or dependency on) bourbon, and their relationship allows Theron's character a chance to blow off steam, albeit irresponsibly.
Mavis eventually remembers Matt as the "hate crime kid" because he was brutally beaten to the point of being disabled in high school at the hands of some jocks who thought he was gay. He serves as a strong comparison point for Mavis' high school experience throughout the film. Oswalt's wit also matches well with Cody's style and Matt actually turns into one of the better depictions of a disabled character probably ever. Other than the incident that caused it, we're not asked to sympathize excessively with his condition, nor do Mavis' snarky remarks about it come across as rude.
Cody's dialogue is much more restrained this time around; "Juno" is eons funnier as a result, but the sacrifice of laughs allows us to focus on the film as a character study of a woman who hasn't quite learned how to be an adult. The script's only deficiency comes from a crater- sized hole in Mavis' history. "Young Adult" deserves praise for being a film about living in the past that contains not a single flashback, but knowing more about Mavis' divorce and how she came to break up with Buddy the first time could have significantly informed the story, especially as to why Mavis willfully lives her life as the trainwreck it clearly is.
The film's climax helps a bit in this regard, and Mavis' epiphany avoids being cliche despite the obvious "appreciate what you have" motif. Part of the message oddly suggests that small- town folks lead purposeless lives for the sake of achieving some kind of blissful stasis, but at the same time the idea that all of us are broken people that need to affirm and trudge forward not backward with our various blemishes, will surely resonate.
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