Charlize Theron first hit my radar back in 1997 opposite the ever wooden but always likeable Keanu Reeves in The Devils Advocate. She utterly outplayed Reeves, which if we're honest, is not that impressive a feat, but so convincingly did she play her relatively muted part as Mary Ann Lomax that I made sure to keep an eye out for her in the future. It would also be fair to say she's made a few questionable choices along the way, but a career with such an incredible array of truly mesmerizing performances is a career worth noting, regardless of the mistakes. The Cider House Rules, The Legend of Bagger Vance, North Country and The Road to name a few, but the true and accurate barometer we should all be using to guage Theron's ability, is her devastatingly brilliant performance in Monster, which won her a well deserved Academy Award. It's a career that has also been punctuated with some excellent comedic displays along the way, such as in Hancock opposite Will Smith, and as the naive and innocent Rita in the third season of the hilarious Arrested Development (though the British accent left a lot to be desired). It's with Young Adult that Theron is afforded an opportunity to straddle both the serious and comedic aspects of her acting prowess, and she does it exceptionally well.
I had my reservations about Young Adult, most notably because it was basically the same Writing/Directing duo that claim credit for Juno, with Diablo Cody penning the screenplay and Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) at the helm. Ok, so Reitman gets a pass from me, he's done some solid work over the years. Nor is it that I had anything in particular against Juno, I rather enjoyed it actually - but I did take exception to learning that Diablo Cody was penning the unnecessary remake of The Evil Dead, to be expected sometime in 2013, and although it may seem petty, this tarred my hopes somewhat for Young Adult. However, with Charlize Theron heading up the cast, it was a safe bet that I'd give it a chance. And boy was I glad I did.
It's the tale of a Teen-Romance novelist, Mavis Gary. The former prom queen, now 37, is struggling to come to terms with a number of crises in her life. Her career has hitting a stumbling block with the cancellation of her series of ghost written teen novels, she remains unmarried, single, living alone with her pet dog. She's damaged, and petulant. Through a sort of sickening desperation, she decides to try and win her, now married, high school sweet-heart back. So blindingly convinced that High School jock Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) will be unable to resist her charms and successes as a writer, she sets about vying for his affections and attempts to lure him away from his loving wife and child.
Mavis is surprised that Buddy is less than receptive at her lewd advances, and employs the help of a high school classmate, who is reluctant to aid her in her pursuits. Having been largely picked on and generally unpopular, he finds it difficult to shun the interest and attention of the high school prom queen, and inadvertently becomes part of her tool belt in her attempts to prize Buddy from his happy life. When things don't quite go to plan, it's clear that Mavis's homecoming is somewhat more difficult than she had hoped and ultimately she must confront the very issues that she has been desperately trying to run away from.
I'll say this right off the bat I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from start to finish. It's an intensely touching look at a woman wrestling with a mid life crisis, who's desperation leads her down a path whose end is only that of bitterness and heart-ache. So delicately is its narrative structured that it truly is a roller-coaster of emotion from start to finish. The script is smart and witty, and in no way contrived. The screenplay is marvellous, and the care that Director Jason Reitman gives it exudes respect; and I can understand why. It's a black comedy, the likes of which I haven't seen since In Bruges. Worth noting is that the laughs in Young Adult are far less telegraphed than that of In Bruges, but it's no less funny for it.
Patrick Wilson plays the High-School sweetheart, Buddy Slade. His character is soft and gentle, but Wilson's physical frame suggests college football in the past. I found this brilliantly cast, as so much of the story here is told without saying a word. The footballing Jock past clearly made way for the more gentle family life. Charlize Theron is obviously beautiful, but here, she is portrayed as an ageing, slightly frayed at the edges, middle aged woman. The once prom queen is perhaps held more together with sticky tape and old memories these days. Her perception of Buddy remained unchanged from their days in high school together, and she seems genuinely surprised, if unperturbed, by the change in his demeanour. Comedy stalwart Patton Oswalt plays the dutiful and good natured friend to Buddy, Matt Freehauf. Matt finds himself lured by the manipulative Mavis into helping her, though he does this unwillingly. She sees in him a nerd that she can use to get to Buddy, and an emotional pin cushion she can stick when things don't go so well. Sadly for Matt, her selfish ways are easy to forgive as he sees in her the prom queen who paid him no attention in school, and he is drawn in to her plots and designs on Buddy.
As the movie plays out, I found myself completely invested in the characters and the narrative. It does a great job of balancing the line between comedy and drama, and never for a second feels slow or sluggish. The cast are, in a word - perfect. Theron is brilliant as ever, and manages to make you both hate and love her at the same time. She's fragile, selfish, manipulative and extremely funny; hard to know if the role was written for her, or if she made the role her own – either is entirely feasible. Wilson is great as the warm, friendly and doting father. The chemistry between the two leads is brilliant, as Theron and Wilson are utterly believable as a couple, or in this case, an ex couple. Patton Oswalt puts in a sterling show as the guy who went largely unnoticed at high school, and Twilight's very own blood thirsty matriarch, Elizabeth Reaser, has some skills on show too as Buddy's compassionate and patient wife, Beth, who also happens to be the drummer in a “mom rock” band. All in all, a pretty good turn out for casting.
A touching and delicately amusing tale that kept its hooks in me from start to finish, Young Adult is unquestionably the stand out offering from Diablo Cody since Juno. Having stumbled a couple of times in between with schlock like Jennifer's Body, and with unsettling news to which I alluded earlier in the review about The Evil Dead remake, Diablo Cody had her work cut out for her with me. However, I have to say that with a great cast, a wonderful script, and a director that she clearly has a great connection with, Young Adult can definitely go down as an overlooked success. Whether you like the idea of turning a romantic comedy on it's head or not, Young Adult is one that any self respecting movie goer should give a couple of hours of their time to.
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