94 min., dir. by Jason Reitman, with Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, and Patrick Wilson
With only four movies under his belt, director Jason Reitman has made a solid reputation for himself. If you didn’t know and I told you he is the son of the man who directed Stripes and Ghostbusters I and II, you’d call me a liar. Setting himself apart from his father Ivan with a series of films that ride the line between drama and black comedy, Jason Reitman teams up for the second time with screenwriter Diablo Cody (first breaking out on the scene together with Juno) for yet another ride into the life of a damaged teenager (though this one’s in her 30s).
Alcoholic teen drama writer Mavis Gary is caught up in the over-dramatized world that the media likes to call reality. Next to postponing her duty of writing the final installment to her once popular young adult literature series, her favorite activity is to sleep with a random computer date-site hookup and pass out drunk, watching trashy reality television.
During her most recent hungover stupor, she comes across an email announcing a baby shower for the newborn of her high school sweetheart. Taking the invite as some twisted message that the man of her teenage dreams wants to get back together, Mavis packs some bags and her dog, grabs that classic ’90s mix tape the boy made for her back when mix tapes were an invitation to bed, and leaves the big city for her downtrodden hometown. No one is going to stand in her way when it comes to getting Buddy Slade back in the sack — not Buddy’s wife, Mavis’s parents, nor Matt Freehauf, Mavis’s out-of-the-blue best friend who was beaten within and inch of his life when they were in school because some jocks thought he was gay.
It’s commendable that both Reitman and Cody try to showcase broken people who can’t be fixed, but it’s getting old and annoying. Diablo Cody is exhibiting a pattern of unbreakable teen angst on par with bands like Korn. High school is over; I understand if you want to use your newfound fame to poke and prod at those that hurt you when you were younger, but eventually you have to move on. It’s near impossible to connect on any level to any character in Young Adult. Pain and anger was all I could feel as the credits began to roll.
Having your film carry a somber message where no one changes isn’t a bad thing. The issue with Young Adult is it presents itself in such a manner that makes you feel that you are rooting for something to happen. Yet Young Adult is a film where no one learns anything. The film does explore the damaging nature of reality television and the world it sells to people who buy into it as reality. However, basing too much emphasis on the characters and their bottomless pit of lost dreams drains so much out of the viewer that everything apart from their pathetic portrayals is deemed unimportant.
Credit should be handed to the actors, as Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, and Patrick Wilson portray characters who are all despicable and sad in their own ways. The utter despair I felt watching their lives unfold is a credit to their talent. If I walk out of a movie filled with loathsome hate for a character, you know the actor was doing something right, even if their character is what made me dislike the movie as a whole.
The pile of forced witty dialogue and petty teenage drama peddled by Diablo Cody has reached its limit. It’s something I was never impressed with in the first place, but it has now overstayed its welcome. Reality TV has a home on MTV and E! Entertainment; I don’t need to sit through a dramatized version of it in a theater.
Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache(http://shalitsstache.com) and also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind (http://ipaintmymind.org).