Monday, January 9, 2012

Young Adult

Get out your booze and high school sweatshirts, we're reviewing Young Adult!
I think I got her face pretty well.
When I saw previews for this and learned Patton Oswalt was co-starring, I thought this would be a comedy similar to Bad Teacher. I was wrong. It is a very painful and awkward movie.

Mavis Gary(Charlize Theron) used to be a pretty popular girl in high school. But now she's a depressed alcoholic adult with a failed teenage book series. When she gets a baby picture from her old college flame, Buddy Slade(Patrick Wilson), she sets off to go back to her hometown to get him back, even though he's a happily married man with a newborn child.

This is from the writer-director duo that brought you Juno, which, watching this, you never would have guessed. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the director, Jason Reitman, was responsible for two more movies that are a couple of favorites of mine, Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air. I can see the connection because these are movies about fairly likeable characters in incredibly unlikable positions. We want to hate them, but there's something to like about what they do and how they do it. And that's the biggest problem I have with this movie: Mavis is completly unlikable.

Having an unlikable character is done for a number of reasons: to show an interesting viewpoint, only having a small aspect that people like to show we're all basically good people, or else creating a personality that can be improved later. But Mavis is simply detestable. There wasn't one point where I didn't want to punch her in the face. She's an alcoholic, a bully, a crappy writer, selfish and self centered, and borderline mentally unstable. Granted, she does have a reason more than "She's a total bitch", which comes out later in the movie, but it's too much to take.  It's to the point where she's such a bad character it takes you out of the expierience.  I find myself asking, "Why am I wasting my time on this person?" The only one time I was happy was when she was having a complete breakdown.

What's worse is that she's such a horrible character that I wanted more than anything for her to learn something, and at the end, she really didn't. I suppose the idea was that she was stuck in the past and she learned to move on, but she's moving on as the same horrible person she's always been. Which, to the movies credit, I have to give it points for being realistic.  This is a real person you could meet and get into an argument/fistfight with.

And if there is one thing this movie has going for it, it's being realsitic. The small-town atmosphere it creates is downright scary.  I've lived in those houses. I've shopped at those stores. I've stayed in those hotels. I've eaten at those crappy restaurants. I've never seen a movie that was closer to real life. We watch a lot of movies that have characters living in environments that we find unbelievable because they are far more extravegant than we know they should be, but this movie is unapologetic in showing the blandness and smallness of real life.  And that aspect I adore about this movie.

I can understand what they're trying to do...take the modern romantic comedy and flip it on its head.  Isn't this the basic premise for all romantic comedies? Down-and-out protagonist comes back to win over crush who is already in a relationship with someone who should be right for them, but then through the power of love and sappy songs he/she winds up with our protagonist?  I like the idea that they take that premise and basically put in a crazy person as their protagonist, but the execution leaves much to be enjoyed.

I do have to say the editing and camerawork is very well done. It's very intimate and has some nice quick sequences, especially when Mavis is dolling herself up. The acting is as well superb. I've never hated Charlize Theron more than I do after watching her in this. She is such a bitch, I want to go back and punch her in the face in other movies. Which, if she can keep up this level of pure evil she should have no problem in next year's Snow White film as the evil queen.  Patton Oswalt is just as great. I actually wanted him to have more of a character arc and have him grown up and learn something, but she sort of just leaves him and we don't find out what happens to him.

Looking back, I have to admit it was technically a good movie.  The camera work was nice, the acting was superb, the mood and setting were perfect; it's just the main character is so dispicable in her actions it's almsot unbearable. It's very well done, but it's too much. I know some people won't be able to take it. This is one of those movies you can't watch more than once.

THE GOOD: Patton Oswalt, great editing and cinematography, great small town atmosphere
THE BAD: You want to punch Charlize Theron's character in the face the whole damn movie.
OVERALL: I don't know if I can recommend it. Yeah, it's technically good, but it's just so damn painful and uncomfortable. You will probably want to punch this movie in the face. RIGHT IN IT'S STUPID FACE.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Bad Techer but without the jokes, Vanilla Sky for the good movie with an unlikable character, Adventure Land and Fargo for the atmosphere, Romy and Michele's Highschool Reunion
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Mavis is talking over the phone with Buddy, obviously flirting with him. What she doesn't know is that as he's talking to her, he's putting breast milk from his wife into storage containers. It's shot in a great way that you never see his face, only his hands handling the breast milk, and we hate Mavis even more for trying to flirt with him.  He is being a good father and jsut catching up and she is completely oblivious.


  1. So, even Patton Oswalt couldn't save the movie? I give you props for being able to pull out one positive thing (realism) from a pile of unpleasantness. I'll take your advice and wait till there is nothing else on before I give away 2 hours of my life to this film. Truthfully, the trailers didn't look that great, either. And her face came our really good on your sketch! Nice job!

  2. Thanks! No Patton Oswalt could not save it. In fact, it's because he's so good that it fails. She rags on him constantly and gets away with it at every turn! So, so annoying.