Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Many people have complained that the lead character of Young Adult is so despicable they couldn't stand spending even 90 minutes with her. They say she's an irredeemable lout who doesn't learn a damn thing by the end of her movie.
They're right. But that's the beauty of Young Adult. And that's why it's one of the best films of the year. At least for a guy like me who can relate.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a onetime high school queen bee who has become a complete and total train wreck. She swigs Diet Coke directly from a two liter bottle every morning, probably to counteract all the booze she swallowed the night before. She toils joylessly on a series of young adult novels that have declined in popularity, and she doesn't even get notable credit for them.
So when she hears that her former high school sweetheart has just had a baby, Mavis gets it in her head that she and Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) were always meant to be together, and dammit, she's going to steal him away from his wife if it's the last thing she does.
Mavis is completely and totally irrational, callous and deluded. I get that. But Young Adult benefited from my personal experience. You see, I once knew a Mavis Gary. Indeed, I fell for a Mavis Gary. And a Mavis Gary cruelly broke my heart. But I never hated my Mavis Gary. Unlike some viewers, I understood how someone could love that girl - and that's why the movie grabbed my attention and still hasn't let go.
Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (Juno) have created an acidic character study - one that for many is a poison pill. But for me it was bittersweet. I found the sadness and yes, resigned wisdom that can be found in this movie if you know where to look.
Many of the acts Mavis commits in this movie are absolutely awful. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest viewers let her off the hook. The movie certainly doesn't, and that's all to the good. But what the movie does do is that it gives the viewer a voice in the movie through Patton Oswalt, who plays Matt. He had the locker next to Mavis in high school but she never gave him the time of day. Indeed, she has no idea who he is is until she recalls him as "the hate crime guy" who was maimed by a gang of jocks who beat him up because they thought he was gay. The two, against their better judgment form an unlikely bond.
That relationship gives Young Adult its through-line, and its emotional resonance. In some ways, I identified with Matt, and when he tells Mavis "Guys like me are made to fall for girls like you," Young Adult rang about as true as any movie has this year.
I can see why Mavis would turn people off - but the movie also made me walk a mile in her shoes. I didn't sympathize with her, but I empathized with her and Matt in many ways. Young Adult was the visualization of a saying I've heard often: Never be too quick to judge people. You never know what battles they may be fighting.