Starring: Charlie Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser
Plot: Mavis Gary (Theron) a former high school “It Girl”, now a divorced ghost writer for the “Waverly Prep” series of young adult books of which she is now currently struggling to finish the last book of the series. However upon receiving an e-mail containing pictures of her now married high school boyfriend Buddy (Wilson), she see’s it as a sign that they should be together once more and returns to her hometown intent on winning him back.
Review: Since appearing seemingly from nowhere to claim an Oscar with her screenplay for “Juno”, Diablo Cody has been considered by some to be the female Orson Wells, who like Cody exploded onto the movie scene, only to never match the same heights as his early years, something which seems to be happening to Cody from the release of “Juno” follow up “Jennifer’s Body” her first attempt at a horror script and a film which suffered largely due to it’s questionable casting choices, aswell as the fact that it seemingly couldn’t decide if it was going to be another smart ass comedy like her debut or an actual horror film, especially when it was largely more titillating than terrifying. Still It seemed like Cody had hit her peak with her debut, with only a gradual downward spiral ahead of her aswell as possibly hocking sherry if she is to truly follow the career trajectory of Orson Wells. Now reuniting with director Jason Reitman, Team Juno return to bring another dark humoured look at the suburbs
Jason Reitman has to certainly be the least recognised director currently working today, especially when you consider that his last three films “Thank You For Smoking”, “Juno” and “Up In The Air” have all been so far fantastic and currently it would seem that he is the only director who can truly capture the spirit of Cody’s writing, with this latest film feeling like a return to familiar territory for the duo to the point were this could very much be set in the same world if not the same town as “Juno” and I frequently half expected to see either Juno or Paulie Bleeker show up in the background as a result of this.
Mavis thankfully though is not another smart assed character, as Cody has toned down the quotable nature of her dialogue to instead craft a truly hideous woman driven by her own personal let alone morally questionable quest to reunite with her ex boyfriend. Viewing her high school days with rose tinted nostalgia, she still hangs onto Buddy’s Letterman jacket, while obsessively playing the same song from an old mixtap he gave her. The key thing about here through is that Mavis only cares about Mavis, something especially clear in the fact that she perceives the fact that Buddy is now married, as nothing but a minor inconvenience and a prison in which he is secretly asking to rescued from, by mailing her pictures of his new born daughter. Still this desire to hook up with Buddy again, it would seem less based on a “Fatal Attraction” esc obsession and ultimately more about trying to reconnect with her high school glory days, especially with her life currently having ground to a disappointing halt and a daily spiral of drinking and writers block.
However upon returning to her hometown she is more than a little disappointed, to find that her legacy was perhaps not as memorable as she had first thought, while also finding an unwitting accomplice in one of her former classmates “Hate Crime” Matt (Oswalt), whom was left walking with a crutch following a high school beating by jocks who had wrongly accused him of being gay. Matt however it would seem is the one person not afraid of telling Mavis the truth, even if she still ignores him and does what she wants’ anyway, together they slowly form an unusual bond.
Charlie Theron is on great form here as Mavis, something which only makes for a suitable reminder as to how she won her Oscar for “Monster”, especially when this is the first film since that win to show that Theron is more than a pretty face and capable of actually pulling off a great performance with the right director, which she would seemingly have with Reitman, for as Mavis she is highly believable, a former prom queen for whom the harsh realities of real life have finally caught up, especially when she is embodiment of so many similar minded girls that I went to school with, many of which seemingly under the same delusions as Mavis and while Mavis might not perhaps be at the same delusional levels as seen in “Fatal Attraction”, she still does come pretty close, as she obsessively phones Buddy to arrange catch up’s, while working under the false pretence of being in town for a property developer conference. Despite this Buddy is shown to be frequently naïve to Mavis’s true intentions, even when she is flirtly knocking back shots with him at a gig being held by the band for whom Buddy’s wife Beth (Reaser) drums for.
The biggest revelation here though is the performance by Oswalt, which not only taps into his natural comedy talent, but also helps him showcase a much more serious side to his acting ability, as a man who refuses to quit, even when he was left with a more permanent reminder of high school than most bullying targets, yet whom is also yet to escape his small town roots in what is a refreshing change from the usual bulled kid come good plotline we’ve come to expect, for he was a loser in school and even now as a grown up little seems to have changed. Still after seemingly a lifetime playing the comedic punch line, it’s great to see Oswalt finally getting to tackle a more challenging role, let alone having a great on screen chemistry with Theron as especially highlighted in their scenes together, which are by far the strongest.
While it might not be the most developed of plot lines, it is still much a more familiar territory for Cody as a writer, even if she has now flipped the perspective to an older character who can’t let go of her teenage years, especially with Cody seemingly being so keen to write from a prospective of youth, rather than impending middle age. What is also interesting is the vain of dark humour which she has worked into the screenplay, a departure from the pop culture and one liner driven humour of both “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body”. However such darkly tinged humour is always a tricky act to pull off and while perhaps not as dark as the likes of Todd “Welcome to the Dollhouse” Solondz, it’s still a fine line that the film walks, with Mavis and her actions frequently providing selfish let alone morally questionable, it certainly makes her a hard character to like and no doubt the reason that this film has split audience down the middle, while some random guy at the screening I was at actually threw his arms up halfway through and walk out, while muttering “fuck this shit” to himself, only furthered to highlight this point, with Cody’s seeming refusal to provide any form of comeuppance outside of turning the events of the film into some kind of weird life lesson, no doubt only adding further fuel to the fire.
“Young Adult” might not be the return Oscar winning form for Cody that her fan base might have hoped for, but it is certainly a huge step up from “Jennifer’s body”, while also continuing a great run of films for Reitman, which doesn’t seem to be stopping just yet, even if this isn’t one of his strongest to date, it still bare all the character driven hallmarks which we have come to expect from his work, which might further explain the sudden leap in quality of storytelling on offer here, but still it is far from the least enjoyable cinema going experience this year, even if half the audience leaving was a little distracting, it is still a quirky and morally ambiguous film, which thankfully refuses to give into traditional film conventions and only comes off the better for it.