High school. Whatever. But for some, high school was their best, shining moment; the time where they were everything to everyone and nothing could stand in their way. Like Mavis Gary, a former Queen Bee of her high school that moved to the big city and became a bestselling writer. Oh, so that sounds good to you? Me too. But for Mavis, her world is a revolving door of writing, drinking, passing out face-first on the bed, and regret. Her way out of this slump? Go find her high-school boyfriend and get him back, of course. I’m sure his wife and baby girl won’t be too much of an obstacle.
Jason Reitman has gotten a bit serious with the amazing Up In The Air, but with Young Adult he comes back to his quirky comedy-drama niche that made Thank You For Smoking and Juno so enjoyable. Speaking of Juno, screenwriter Diablo Cody is on her A game here; with Young Adult, I forgive her her Jennifer’s Body trespasses. Mostly because I am ZOMG excited to see how her work on The Evil Dead plays out, because her snarky ‘tude is a perfect fit for that film, but also because Young Adult itself is a whole lot of fun. Embarrassing fun. Uncomfortable fun. Hey-I-Did-That-Once-How’d-She-Know fun.
They say that Julia Roberts was considered for the role of Mavis, probably because of her performance as another selfish guy-grabber in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Though I love me some Julia, not having Charlize in his film would have been a shame, because Charlize Theron owns this role, inside and out. Her Mavis is a messed up train wreck of alcoholism, self-pity and delusion that could have come off as a total asshole in the wrong hands. Julia Roberts’ role in Wedding was a delusional desperate chick that was a nice gal deep down. But here, Mavis is a “psycho prom-queen bitch”, with very little redeeming value. However, there are brief flashes of pain in Mavis’ eyes that gives viewers just enough insight to make folks care about watching this self-absorbed delusion-fest carry on. I kept my fingers crossed through Young Adult, hoping that she’d get a clue as to how she was seen by others, and how she could turn her life around. I wanted Mavis to be better, to pull through. That touch of real heart from a damn good actress makes this movie.
Oh, and the chemistry between actors makes it too. Patton Oswalt delivers a killer performance as a man who went to high school with Mavis, and his high school experience wasn’t the shining, golden thing hers was. But Mavis turns to him — probably because she’s alienated everyone else — and the scenes where they get together are hilarious and touching. Oswalt, who is best known for his stand-up comedy (though I loved his brief bits in Caprica) proves he can handle dramatic roles with the best of ‘em. Elizabeth Reaser takes a break from the Twilight franchise as Bucky’s wife/Mavis’ “foe” Beth, and her brief but well-acted bit of screen time makes me really want to see her in another non-Twilight-y film.
As Mavis’ ex-flame Bucky, Patrick Wilson isn’t given much to do here but stand around. Much like Dermot Mulroney in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bucky is simply a prop for the leading lady to work out her issues. The fact that he’s a seemingly normal, decent dude that’s just like anybody else you’d run into at Home Depot on a Sunday morning? Only serves to shine the light on Mavis’ need to reach out to the days she believes were her best. Collette Wolfe (Hot Tub Time Machine) plays Matt’s sister Sandra, an all-American girl who grew up and got stuck in a small-town rut. As with Oswalt, Wolfe shows her dramatic chops here, and the back and forth between Sandra and Mavis towards the end of the film is brilliant.
As with Juno, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have made a film that is a bit of real life as viewed through the wrong side of the looking glass. It’s hilarious, heartwarming and balls-out real. Grab a few of your high-school friends (hello, Facebook!) and compare childhood traumas. Y’all will come out on top, trust me.