April 1, 2012
Young Adult (2011) ***1/2
Directed by Jason Reitman
Young Adult (2011)- Great acting. Cody's tone works better w/ pregnant teenager than 30-something narcissist. Still insightful. ***1/2 of 5
Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman unite once again for Young Adult, their first collaboration since 2007's Juno, to which I gave five stars and placed on my ten best of the year list. Reitman, especially, has proven his talent since then, directing the brilliant Up in the Air in 2009. Young Adult therefore had a great deal to live up to.
Cody maintains her signature sardonic tone in Young Adult. This worked in Juno because the main character was a teenager dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Juno's sarcasm defined a girl not yet able to deal with the prospects of having a baby. In Young Adult, Charlize Theron's Mavis Gary is in her thirties, thus allowing the tone to demonstrate a severe immaturity within the main character.
Assisted by personal issues and hampered by an emerging alcoholism, Mavis journeys closer and closer to a complete breakdown. It's all pretty uncomfortable to watch. The first two acts work very well, giving us a portrait of a developmentally stunted, mean-spirited woman rapidly losing her ability to navigate her surroundings while coming face to face with people from her past still living in her hometown.
Despite excellent performances from Theron and Patton Oswalt, Young Adult loses its way in an over-the-top final act which doesn't work. The intelligence and nuance of the first two acts ends in a train wreck of epic proportions that feels at once both inorganic and predictable. In order for Mavis Gary to sink as far as she does, the characters around her are required to be profoundly stupid and naive.
Young Adult could have been great, and it has moments of true human insight and pathos. Despite going off the rails at the end, Young Adult is worth seeing because the journey we take with Mavis can easily be separated from the journey's conclusion, and that's where Diablo Cody shines. Mavis feels like a real character on a real journey for so long that this achievement on the part of both Cody and Reitman deserves credit. Cody is a master of sarcasm masking insecurity. In Juno, everything leads to a birth. In Young Adult, the journey of a misanthropic thirty-something seems to have nowhere to go. Next time, Cody should start at the end. Her beginnings and her middles are quite good.