Jun 28 2012
If you ever had the common misfortune of growing up as neither beautiful nor popular, you’ll remember wondering what will happen to the beauty queens and football heroes that used to lord it up at school. Having been told that the meek will inherit the Earth, you wait for the day when the nerdy and awkward kids at school become tech millionaires. In this fantasy, the popular kids are now forty, living in a trailer and lining up at the dole queue every week. But more than often, in real life, that is not the case.
Mavis Gary (played by Charlize Theron) is a 37 year-old prom queen who now ghost writes a series of young adult novels set in high school. Having reached a dead end with her latest book, she returns to her hometown on a mission to rescue her old boyfriend (Watchman’s Patrick Wilson) from what she’s convinced herself is a loveless marriage. When she rocks back into town, she ends up meeting an old bullied classmate (Patton Oswalt). Oswalt recognises her but she has completely forgotten him except for the fact that he was ‘the hate crime kid’: he was ruthlessly crippled as a teen because his assailants thought he was gay. But he’s not. There’s a running theme of characters stuck in arrested development: Mavis never got over her break-up so by penning books about schoolgirl crushes and senior proms, she’s effectively re-writing her past again and again; Oswalt seems well balanced and erudite but he still bears the scars of his beating and fills his evening distilling whiskey in his garage and painting action figures.
Mavis is bitchy and self-centred but more importantly, she’s delusional. She’s completely bitchy and off-the charts crazy and she’s utterly convinced that her ex is miserable. Theron does a fantastic job wringing the hilariously awkward moments of the film as well nailing her moments of tragedy. Fans of TV’s Arrested Development will know that she’s fully capable of playing comedy, but it’s strange how she’s rarely called upon to be funny in films. Stand-up comedian Oswalt –who you may recognise from The King of Queens or as Remy in Pixar’s Ratatouille– is also a revelation, holding his own in scenes opposite the Academy Award winning beauty. Though few people saw his 2010 independent comic drama Big Fan, it showed him to be a comic actor of great vulnerability and sincerity and his performance here in Young Adult only confirms his immense potential.
Reuniting the Juno power-team of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, Young Adult is a slightly different creature from Cody’s earlier works. Instead of being about adolescents, it’s about the people whose best years are well behind them. Where once they looked hopefully to the future, they can now only look back and wonder. Gone are the snippets of slang and way-cool pop culture references but what remains is the beating heart of pain that made Juno such a endearing film.