Young Adult (2011) – Review

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After 2007’s unexpected hit Juno, Young Adult is the second film that pairs director Jason Reitman’s sharp satirical style with writer Diablo Cody. Charlize Theron plays 37 year-old divorced, former high-school prom queen Mavis Gary in a jet-black comedy about old teenage romance. After receiving an email from an old high-school boyfriend, Mavis decides to leave Minneapolis to rekindle relations with an old-flame; problem is, this guy’s married with a new baby daughter. 

At it’s best, Young Adult is a sickly funny, yet tragic satire built around the recurring themes of growing old,moving on and the pursuit of happiness. Charlize Theron is excellent throughout, managing to make the utterly remorseless protagonist Mavis a real compelling character. There are some really uncomfortable, cringe inducing moments (particularly during the climactic final 20 minutes) to endure.

Reitman and Cody really tear into 37 year-old high-school beauty from Mercury, Minnesota, laying bare all the baggage of her loneliness, insecurity and alcoholism. Her high-rise apartment is filled with empty share-size Diet Coke bottles and the vacuous sounds of reality television drone in the background. There’s a memorable early scene in Mavis’ red Mini Cooper, where she keeps replaying a battered cassette tape of Teenage Fanclub’s early 90’s alt. rock hit ‘The Concept’, driving her to more frustration each time the song plays. All the signs are out there that our heroine is a damaged soul. I’m still not entirely sure how sympathetic I should feel towards her. I guess the viewer’s verdict will ultimately be influenced by the extent to which you see Mavis as mentally ill.

Pop culture references are subtly dotted throughout the film, Cody and Reitman tip their hats to the seminal film The Graduate (1967), and the 90’s alt. rock influenced soundtrack helps set a nostalgic tone. Keep an ear out for rearranged performances of Pearl Jam, Foo Fighter’s and Soundgarden songs that appear also. 

My feelings certainly were mixed by the end of Young Adult. The film is a lot more ambiguous than Reitman’s previous efforts. Without the moral hard-line that Thank You for not Smoking takes and the likeable characters of Juno, Young Adult is much more of a conflicting film. It is a difficult watch, but there’s a lot to gain from it’s depth and dark humour.

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