Tuesday, January 10, 2012

At the Movies: Young Adult

January is not a time for happy movies.  When the bf and I hit the theater to see Young Adult last Friday night, it was thronged with people who had turned out for the horror flick The Devil Inside (not to be confused with the upbeat INXS hit of the same name).  

But I'm not here to talk about that movie (thankfully). 

Young Adult is the story of 37-year-old failed young adult fiction ghostwriter and recent divorcee Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron).  Suffering from (the beginnings of?) alcoholism and depression, Mavis takes one last greedy grab at happiness by returning to her one-horse Minnesota hometown to stalk her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who is now married with a baby.  So things are pretty bleak, right down to Mavis's seedy Minneapolis apartment, nearly empty closet, and take-no-prisoners bitchiness.  Mavis is the kind of woman who wears sweats to Macy's and no-holds-barred-cleavage-baring dresses to brightly lit sports bars.  She also has the nasty habit of pulling out her hair, a problem she masks by wearing hair extensions.

Mavis is in a bar plotting her next move with Buddy when she runs into ex-classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt).  (I'd like to interject that I've always found Oswalt's "King of Queens" character Spence to be sensitive and endearing and thought that Doug and Co. were far too hard on him.  Now back to the discussion at hand.)  Mavis, having been of the in crowd elite, doesn't immediately recognize him but ends up exclaiming (something along the lines of), "Hey, you're that hate crime guy!", her eyes traveling to the cane propped next to his barstool.  Matt then relays how he was beaten and left for dead by the football team (I think) because they thought he was gay, the effects of which permanently damaged his nether regions.  Thawed by this icebreaker, Mavis reveals her plans to win Buddy back, much to Matt's disgust. 

As one may predict, it's a disgust that's well-founded.  Although receptive to meeting Mavis, Buddy is clearly discomfited by her return.  Even Mavis's parents don't know what to say when she retreats to her childhood bedroom and dons Buddy's old sweatshirt.  (By the way, what's with these movies where parents leave their grown kids' bedrooms creepily untouched?  I don't know about you, but my old room has long since been stripped of its unicorn figurines.)  Yet as Mavis grows more and more distant from the people who, as she puts it, "knew her at her best," she and Matt nurse a tenuous friendship.

A few words about Buddy.  He's obviously meant to be a good guy and comes out looking even better than I suspect he should when stacked against Mavis's machinations.  But he does a few things that he shouldn't, revealing Mavis to be vulnerable and, dare I say, sympathetic.  She's a modern-day Blanche Dubois, delusional and damaged, gorgeous and glamorous, and desperately trying to hang on to a time that has moved on without her.  She's not the cheerleader who married her high school sweetheart and got all fat and happy.  But she's not the big-city success story, either.  She's a ghostwriter for a teen series that's outgrown itself, a byline-less novelist living through her characters in hopes of achieving greatness.

As I hinted at this post's beginning, Young Adult isn't a feel good movie.  (Cue the ladies a few rows ahead of us who screeched, "That's it?!" as the credits rolled.)  But it's a good movie and one worth seeing.  Theron and Oswalt shine as outcasts from opposite sides of the social spectrum, and the nebulous ending makes a kind of sad perfect sense.


Jewel Divas said...

This movie is here in Aus soon and already it annoys the hell out of me. I HATE characters like Charlize's, I like her but not the sleazy skanks who think they can just barge into your life and take what they want in pursuit of their own happiness without one damn thought of anyone else.

Kinda like the movie "In Her Shoes" with Cameron and Toni. Skank Cameron thought everyone owed her and when she didn't get she turned hateful.


The Tote Trove said...

Ah yes, no one likes a sleazy skank. And I agree that Cameron Diaz's character in In Her Shoes is quite deplorable. However, I think that what sets Charlize's Mavis apart is her layers. Because of them, I found her to be fascinating.