“Sometimes in order to heal…a few people have to get hurt.”
At first glance Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a successful, independent woman in her mid 30’s blessed with impeccable good looks, a smoking body and a brain to match. She lives in a high rise apartment complete with all the usual mod-cons and has the makings of the quintessential contemporary woman. But all is not what it seems. Mavis is harbouring some demons. She’s the ghost-writer of a novel series aimed at teenagers and struggling to nail down her next instalment. We soon get to meet the real Mavis Gary; addicted to diet coke and daytime television, and losing her creative sparkle. It soon becomes apparent that Mavis, despite being our protagonist and heroine, isn’t a very nice person.
When she receives an email from her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who is now happily married and gleefully satisfied with how his life has turned out – the complete opposite to her – she decides to return to her hometown and pay him a visit. If it sounds like a terrible idea it’s because it is. In an unwarranted and rather obnoxious attempt to find gratification from her drab existence, Mavis – like some fictitious character pulled directly from the pages of her books or from one of many of her favourite unrealistic romcom movies growing up – is fuelled with determination to win her old boyfriend back and find true happiness once and for all. It doesn’t exactly end well for all parties.
Mavis is a closet alcoholic with a greasy chip on her shoulder who thinks the world owes her something of worth. Selfish and cold hearted, by all rights we should hate her and at various points of the movie she does some horrible things. Despite that Theron plays the part with such ferocity and gusto that it’s hard not to smile when she shakes things up. I really liked her and found myself actually rooting for her plan to prevail. Theron hilariously takes the reins and runs with it. Despite the obvious humour, there is a dark side lingering amongst the laughs waiting to rise to the surface. When Mavis befriends local disabled-loner Matt (Patton Oswalt) her past slowly begins to unveil itself. We find out that she once bullied Matt as others often did, presuming he was gay and making his teenage years a living hell. We also find out she slept around during her high school days and despite what she may think she hasn’t really grown up at all. Mavis’ exchanges with Matt bring a different story to the fold and adds depth to her character, no matter how shallow she remains. I’m not Oswalt’s biggest fan but I have to admit that he shines here. Whether he wants it or not, he earns our sympathy as the introverted sidekick.
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman – who previously teamed up for Juno – Young Adult explores the desperation that exists from a forgotten youth and the blatant ineptitude of letting go and moving on. Like Juno, Cody doesn’t prance around with metaphoric homilies. The script is punchy, quirky and truthful.
Theron was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2012 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical losing out (wrongly in my opinion) to Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn. Despite the nod, Theron’s take on the thirty something downward spiral will sadly probably not be one of her more memorable performances. It’s a shame she isn’t given more opportunities in roles like these. Mavis Gary may be a bitch but at least she’s real.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter