Monday, July 9, 2012

One Miserable Character Dominates A Thoroughly Miserable Movie: Young Adult

The Good: The acting
The Bad: Characters, Plot, Unimaginative direction, Writing
The Basics: After months of eagerly looking forward to watching Young Adult, I watch the film and discover . . . it’s an absolute lemon.

I can think of no film that I missed in theaters last year that I wanted to see more than Young Adult. Now that it is out on DVD and Blu-Ray, I managed to get my chance and the truth is, I am left absolutely baffled as to why I wanted to see the film. I cannot think of a movie that has let me down more lately than Young Adult and the feeling of “Why did I want to see this?” truly stems from the fact that there were no good lines in the movie. I do not write with hyperbole here; I cannot think of a single line from the movie that, if I saw it in a preview, I would have excitedly said, “I must see Young Adult!”

And it’s not that I don’t like depressing stories of human suffering - Everything Must Go (reviewed here!) was more enjoyable than Young Adult. I even like independent cinema, as my love of God Bless America (reviewed here!) illustrates. So, I’m left with the conclusion that writer Diablo Cody got lucky. Juno is great, but maybe she truly just had the one work in her; Cody might be as burned out at Mavis Gary and, if that is the case, it would be nice if she no longer troubled us with writing films that assemble intriguing and wonderful casts only to absolutely suck the enjoyment out of watching a movie for us.

Mavis Gary is a raging alcoholic whose young adult book series is getting one last volume before it is officially shelved. As Mavis tries to write the book, she becomes obsessed with how her ex-boyfriend in Minnesota has just had a child and she returns to her hometown to rekindle a relationship with him, despite him being married. Hanging out at a local bar, Mavis encounters Matt, who was crippled in high school by jocks who thought he was gay.

Even as Mavis pursues Buddy Slade, her high school boyfriend, she keeps finding herself running into Matt, who sees her for the wreck she is and calls her on it. As Mavis moves closer to acknowledging her faults, she finds herself obsessed with Buddy, using Matt and avoiding her parents.

Young Adult is one of those films where it is tough to muster up the enthusiasm to write about the experience, it was so disappointing. First and foremost – even above the writing lacking a pop or intrigue to make the film work on more than just a literal level - Young Adult suffers from the protagonist being utterly loathsome. Again, I am not certain at all what I saw that made me think I would like Young Adult because from her first frames on screen, Mavis Gary is not only mean, self-centered and vapid, but she is boring. Mavis has nothing particularly wrong with her life; she is a successful writer, seems to have all she wants or needs and yet, she’s a drunk who obsesses over the past in the most whiny, self-centered way.

Mavis Gary might be the best cinematic example of a person with a personality disorder (i.e. a person for whom everything revolves around them, with no regard at all for others, their thoughts or feelings) and if that is the case, it does not help her. It makes her no more interesting; instead, she is just an embodiment of a horrible personality. Unfortunately, Young Adult lacks a hook, anything at all to make the viewer empathize with Mavis or even want to keep watching her past the first five minutes.

The closest the film has to an intriguing character is Matt Freehauf. His story is pretty much a one-line joke – he was celebrated as a poster boy for hate-crime awareness until the moment it became clear that he was not gay and thus, the crime was just excessive bullying – but it is well-played by Patton Oswalt. Oswalt lends a quiet strength to the role and becomes a reasonable sage as Matt.

Unfortunately, Young Adult is so predictable that Matt and Mavis eventually do end up in bed together . . . with a remarkable lack of physical or psychological consequences. Perhaps that is what is so troubling about Young Adult; Mavis spends most of her interaction with Matt simply using him and Matt is stuck in the past. Matt is not stuck in the past the way Mavis claims – he has daily reminders of how horrible the past was to him through his scars and being forced to walk with a crutch - but rather in the way he lets Mavis treat him. Matt was a victim of bullying and Mavis, who clearly shows she does not actually care about him, bullies Matt into moving around, giving up his microbrew beer, and ultimately giving in to her in every way she asks.

Unlike a film like Requiem For A Dream, that captures the horrors of modern life with a stark, dank, depressing reality, Young Adult lacks any superlative quality. Requiem For A Dream may be dark and miserable, but it captured a reality with stunning realism as to make it even more troubling. Young Adult does not even do that. It is a predictably-structured melodrama that drags itself to an inevitable, miserable conclusion that leaves the viewer wishing they had back the time they invested in the movie. There is no artistry.

One of my new cinematic favorites, Patrick Wilson, gives an unfortunately dim performances as Slade. Charlize Theron dominates the film as Mavis and while this is not one of her better characters, it is a role that is unlike any of the others she has ever played. She gives a performance that makes her virtually the polar-opposite of the stiff-backed, professional Meredith Vickers in Prometheus. But I’d rather watch that film over and over again than even catch another clip of Theron slouching through the role of Mavis.

Now on DVD, I hated the primary material enough that I refused to watch any of the bonus features. Young Adult is a very easy movie to recommend an “avoid it!” rating.

For other works with Charlize Theron, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
Arrested Development - Season Three
Aeon Flux
15 Minutes
Reindeer Games


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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