Young Adult (2011) – Jason Reitman

I peaked at 17. This is clear. I’m fine with it, my rise to that peak was much steeper than my decline has been, but I’m in decline there’s no doubt about it. 17 was the ideal mix of confidence, accomplishment and potential. It was the moment that I was expected to come through on some of that potential when the downturn occurred. Young Adult is about peaking, realizing it and either accepting it or defying it. Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) has chosen to defy it. This is why I like movies so much, tell me if you’ve heard this one before; a good-looking blonde who’s approaching forty still relies mainly on her looks to get what she wants. She puts her eye on a man in a happy relationship and decides to break them up, befriending an awkward, less attractive high school classmate who understands her much better in the process. In the end she learns nothing and her serious problems remain untreated. Seen that movie before? I have, just this year, it was called Bad Teacher and wasn’t very good.

Young Adult is a grown up Bad Teacher, funnier but not in the same way and with something to say about human beings and the way we react to reality. Charlize Theron is very good as a woman with huge emotional and mental problems, she writes a vapid and increasingly unpopular line of teen books while correcting anyone who calls her a writer (“I’m an author.”), she doesn’t even get her name in big print on the book. Prompted by a baby announcement email, she hustles down to her hometown in the sticks from Minneapolis to try to win the new father away from his family. They were high school sweethearts and like in her books, high school sweethearts are perfect human relationships and she’s on a mission to rekindle what should never have been unkindled in the first place. Makes no difference that the guy is a boring dope (Patrick Wilson) and is clearly both in love with his wife and oblivious to Theron’s advances.

Theron teams up, sort of, with Matt (Patton Oswalt) who was the victim of a wayward hate crime in high school, he had his legs and nether regions mutilated by a bunch of bullies because they thought he was gay, he’s not. That’s the kind of sense of humor Young Adult has. The relationship between Oswalt and Theron is the best part of the movie, she at first is reluctant to be seen with him, he is of a different social class, but once she realizes he’s just as interested as drinking away the day as she is, she keeps finding herself back at his place. The troubling aspect of Young Adult is how delusional Theron is, how clingy she is to what was and how obvious it is to everyone else that those days are over. Even Bad Teacher’s Cameron Diaz had an ounce of self-awareness, Theron here, when she is forced to look at herself honestly, is so easily swayed away from doing so, it’s truly pathetic. And that’s what distinguishes Young Adult from similar comedies about losers who were hot stuff in high school. Everybody has a time in their life when they think they were at their best. Some people struggle when that time is over.

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