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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Young Adult

Young Adult has just about the bleakest view of humanity I’ve ever seen in a movie billed as a comedy. Every character in it is either selfish or stupid or both. That’s certainly true of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a divorced ghostwriter of young adult fiction who returns to her hometown on a spur of the moment mission to rescue her old boyfriend from his happy marriage and family.

It’s fun for a while to watch Theron play the bitch to the hilt, and most of the laughs come from her line-readings, which manage to capture the fractured logic and self-delusion endemic to her character. Theron is clearly having a lot of fun on screen, it’s just a shame that that fun doesn’t really extend to the rest of the movie.

Patrick Wilson plays the object of Mavis’s affection, Buddy Slade, and he’s such a blank slate that it’s hard to tell what his character is really supposed to be. Whether this is the fault of Wilson or of Diablo Cody’s script is hard to tell, but it’s a problem nonetheless. What Cody’s script is responsible for is the fact that Slade is allowed to look like an idiot for so much of the movie, only for a last minute revelation which just makes someone else look like an even bigger idiot.

Patton Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf, a high school classmate of Mavis’s whom she doesn’t remember at first, until his tragic past comes up. Oswalt’s character at first seems a little heavy-handed, although Mavis certainly needs someone to tell her how crazy she is behaving. But to the credit of the filmmakers and to Oswalt, his character later reveals his own flaws and selfish perspective.

This is not a feel-good comedy. It is a feel-awkward and occasionally feel-bad comedy. It made me squirm more than it made me laugh, and its brave story decisions don’t quite overcome a lack of real laughter. Theron and Oswalt are fun to watch, but the movie itself doesn’t cohere into something enjoyable.

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