In a Super Secret Screening on Monday October 24th, the Alamo Drafthouse of Austin invited fans to a free showing of Young Adult, featuring in-person guests Director Jason Reitman and star Patton Oswalt. The film opens in limited release on December 9th and wider on December 16th.
Young Adult begins in Minneapolis, a city of industrialism without the prestige of Chicago or New York. Charlize Theron plays the washed-up ex-school socialite Mavis Gary, a ghost writer claiming famous author status, who returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota in an attempt to woo back her old high school flame. Darkness, rather than hilarity, ensues. Patton Oswalt plays Matt, an unexpected conscience and friend, who is just as guilty of being unable to let go as the delusional and pretentious Mavis. In usual Theron and Patton fashion, both play their characters as if they were built for them specifically, running a fine line between bleak truth and dark humor.
Young Adult doesn’t lack depth in its main character; Mavis’s failures and subsequent denial of them are more than evident through her boozing, inability to look at herself in a mirror before happy hour, and inherent conceit. The rest of the film, however, seems to barely scratch the surface by comparison. This story hits so close to home for so many that the script just isn’t enough to make Young Adult the home-run Juno was. The film does make attempts to get the viewer emotionally involved, adding a glimmer of back story outside Mavis’s ego. In a scene with an old flame’s wife, Theron portrays Mavis as not only naked and raw in feeling, but also unwavering in her blind egomaniacal sense of self when confronted with maturity. Another scene chances an impossible change of heart in Mavis while she shares a brief, but perfect connection with Sandra, played by the fantastic Collette Wolfe, but in the end it’s not enough. There are many questions the viewer will find unanswered, but that may simply be to drive home the fact that the universe revolves around Mavis; you’re in her world even though you don’t deserve to be. Almost twenty years after graduation, and with a career many would find envious, Mavis reveals herself to be just as sad as the hometown she mocks and resents.
While this film is enjoyable, Young Adult lacks a wow factor. The leap into something darker than Juno and Up in the Air is a adventure for Reitman that he pulls off well and Oswalt and Theron are fantastic with the story they’re given. The film, however, ultimately seems stuck deciding whether to be a drama or a dark, dry comedy of the ordinary. Theron is undeniable enthralling to watch, like a trainwreck that just keeps getting worse.
Stephen King once said “I hated high school. I don’t trust anybody who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment. If you liked being a teenager, there’s something wrong with you,” and I agree. While everyone knew or – worse – currently knows a Mavis, seeing her on the big screen in all the glory of pitiful masochism and reminiscence is not enough for a truly fulfilling story. Young Adult begins well, truly tries in the third act, and its star and directors play their parts well. The story just simply falls short.