HST… Film Review: Young Adult

2011_young_adult_005While discussing Young Adult after a screening a couple weeks ago, Alan and I realized that we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on this one.  Here are our (spoiler free) thoughts on this movie.  Also be sure to check out Zac’s review as well to see where his opinion lines up with ours.

Lauren: I hate to do this, and I should know better because all my teachers always said not to start a paper with a quote, but technically it is now the second sentence, so loophole! Sergei Lukyanenko writes in Night Watch: “In a war the most dangerous thing is to understand the enemy.  To understand is to forgive.”  Now this might be rather extreme for Young Adult, but this quote does serve its purpose in describing the main character.

The story is about an almost 40 year old woman who hasn’t quite grown up past her glorious high school days where she was the top of the popularity tier.  Today Mavis Gary spends her time writing young adult novels (ergo the title’s connection to the film in the obvious sense, though it is more a descriptor of the main character), but is interrupted from her writer’s block when her high school sweetheart emails her a picture of his newborn baby.  With this email as a catalyst, the decision is made to go back to her hometown in order to win back this man, hinting at the obvious delusion Mavis is living in.

Alan Saying that Mavis is living in a delusion is an understatement.   She seems to be living her life like she was still in high school herself, acting like an evil, selfish witch that people in her hometown thoroughly believe.  Mavis, who also has a giant drinking problem, enters the local tavern and meets up with Matt, the once high school freak that got assaulted when he was younger.  Matt now walks around with a crutch and a haunting memory of getting beaten up because he was gay.  This was big news in the community – until it is revealed that he was in fact straight, then it became nothing more than a sad story.

Mavis and Matt develop a rather wide and complex relationship during her trip.  While they both love the booze (Matt makes his own special brew named after a certain Star Wars locale), Mavis and Matt’s relationship grows from strangers, to almost a fighting couple – both of them trying to get what they want.  And in Mavis’ eyes, she is not in town for Matt.  She is in town for Buddy, who is also happily married and with a newly born child.

Lauren: Your description is definitely not off on Mavis, but here is a comparison that I will bring up in support of her character. This past year Cameron Diaz played a horrible person in Bad Teacher, and I ended up hating the film because I couldn’t connect to her at all.  The same could be said about Mavis (Charlize Theron) to an extent, but I included the quote above because I was able to sympathize with her. She hasn’t grown up from the girl she once was, but the film suggests that this isn’t her fault (can’t get more specific without spoilers).

And then there is Diablo Cody. Most know her as the writer of Juno, the highly stylized dialog fest about a pregnant high schooler.  She continued to write for film and TV, calming down her style slightly with Showtime’s The United States of Tara. I would compare Young Adult more to this series, but no matter the extent of the stylization of the words, the one thing that always stays the same is her ability to make memorable characters. You might not know someone exactly like these characters, such as Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body, but there is still plenty of truth there.

And let’s face it, Cody knows how to produce hilarious dialog, which was complimented greatly with Theron and Patton Oswalt.

Alan:  Cody does know how to write memorable characters, however she tends to overwrite a bit in those projects (United States of Tara not so much).  There are definitely moments throughout the film that it is a bit overwritten, but she usually counters it with some pretty subtle moments between the characters.  Reitman probably helped with this nice, subtle moment creation as well between the characters in Young Adult (even the supporting ones).

Now, about Mavis.  I saw Bad Teacher, and yeah, she was an awful person.  Mavis tops her though, with moments and lines throughout that just made me cringe.  The ending (which I wish I could spoil) killed me; I hated her throughout this entire movie and was completely disappointed in her character arc.  That left me with such a sour taste in my mouth.  I saw this film about two weeks ago, and besides the great performance by Patton Oswalt, the last conversation stuck with me.  I don’t know about you, but the payoff just wasn’t there for me.

Lauren:  Well I guess you could call it overwriting if you look at it a certain way… I like to call it emphasizing their problem areas.  Juno had her crazy preggo/teenage hormone brain, Jennifer was possessed by a demon, Tara is suffering from multiple personalities, and Mavis has some psychological scars that she hasn’t dealt with.

And as for your defeatist attitude with the ending, I still like to be pretty hopeful about it because she does admit to certain things about herself, so fingers crossed for her getting helped.  But most importantly, she better take better care of that dog!

Alan:  I know she admitted her flaws and mistakes later in the film, but towards the end, when it mimics the beginning, it almost shows that her ways will not change as much as the viewer would want.

This film is still funny, from beginning to end, though I just wish there was a bigger payoff.

Lauren:  Well before I start joining in with the chorus behind me singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on our acceptance of the ending.  I just know that though I wished for something else like you did, instead of being annoyed with her, I found it easy to pity her, which was change enough for me.

Alan’s Final Grade: C+

Lauren’s Final Grade: B

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