The latest collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, Juno this ain’t, as the pair turn in a smart, darkly comic movie that could have been so much more were it not for such a one-sided narrative.
In the process of writing her new book, the last of a successful teen series, Mavis Gary (Theron) returns to her small hometown for inspiration, though spends most of the time trying to steal back the heart of her former high school sweetheart. Jumping into the trip after mistakenly receiving an email newsletter, it’s no surprise to her, however, that Buddy Slade (Wilson) is now happily married, recently celebrating the birth of his first child, and with unresolved issues at home and dealing with fairly unstable mental state, Mavis’ few days in her old shoes do go not quite as she had planned.
Along the way Theron’s character finds an unexpected friend in former classmate Matt Freehauf, a platform that might prove at last to be a breakout performance for Patton Oswalt. Patrick Wilson is impressive too, although with the story so focal on Mavis Gary, it’s tough to wrestle the limelight from our lead. Theron is a tour de force, giving a whole-hearted performance that subtly teases cracks in Mavis’ stability, able to keep things together until it all starts to go wrong. It’s unfortunate therefore, that Theron is somewhat restricted by a one-sided script.
Young Adult doesn’t have the warmth or rounded character arcs of Reitman’s previous films and could have done with more comedy and less of a bruising tone. While it was important to keep elements of this film very dark, they aren’t supplemented with anything to give Theron’s actions a sense of balance, or any sort of redemption when we hit the credits.
The film has a very full-on attitude, which works in part but hampers elsewhere. The narrative drives forward for a powerful 94-minute runtime though it leaves little opportunity to really invest in what’s going on.
Riteman generally helms well, although up against Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up In The Air, it’s his worst film to date. On a $12m budget and 30-days shooting schedule though, Young Adult is still a wonderful achievement, but thanks to deficiencies in the script, it’s just far from a classic, even for the genre.
The film tries to suck you in, but it’s very difficult to feel anything but disdain for the central character. Matt Freehauf is more appealing but he doesn’t quite have enough screen time to steal the limelight. In the end you feel sorry for Mavis Gary, rather than falling in love with her, and as a result, it’s very hard to fall in love with the film.
Young Adult is an impressive movie, but it’s not a rounded movie and as a result proves to be a captivating if entirely unrewarding experience.