PG Cooper: Young Adult Review

Posted: December 18, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: December 9th, 2011

Running time: 96 minutes

Written by: Diablo Cody

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, and Elizabeth Reaser

In 2007,  a small film called Juno made a big impact. It was an independent film about teen pregnancy with a modest budget of $6.5 million. Penned by first time writer Diablo Cody and directed by relative new comer Jason Reitman, I think it’s fair to say they didn’t expect the film to take off the way it did. Juno was well-received by both critics and audiences, and would go on to gross over $140 million domestically. It was nominated for four Oscars(Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Actress) and would win the award for Original Screenplay. The film is still considered one of the best films of 2007. An impressive feat considering that year also had No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Zodiac, among others.

Four years later, the team of Cody and Reitman have returned to bring us Young Adult. In that time their careers have changed pretty drastically. Diablo Cody has gone on to create the television series “The United States of Tara”, as well as writing the Megan Fox film Jennifer’s Body. The latter project seemed especially odd to me. I never saw the film, but I was shocked to find it was written by Cody. It seemed strange for an Academy Award winning writer to pen a film that looked so trashy. At any rate, Jennifer’s Body didn’t exactly light the world on fire and at this point is largely forgotten.

Jason Reitman’s career on the other hand has taken off a lot better. After Juno, Reitman went on to write and direct the excellent Up in the Air, which earned him another Oscar nomination for Best Director, as well as a nomination for writing. Reitman had gone from being a relative newcomer to one of the industries top talents. Now the two have come back together with Young Adult, but does it live up to their first collaboration?

The film revolves around Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a 30 some year old woman who makes her living writing young adult novels. One morning while checking her email, she discovers that her high school sweetheart Buddy(Patrick Wilson) and his wife(Elizabeth Reaser) have recently had a child. Motivated by rage and jealousy, Mavis returns to the small town she came from in hopes of taking Buddy back for herself. While there, she strikes a bond with another familiar face from high school, physically challenged Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt).

This is a much darker film than Juno, and I can say with certainty it won’t do as well as that film did either critically or financially. I wish I could say it was because this film is that much edgier and powerful, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. This is a film with some huge flaws at it’s core. While I’m glad Cody and Reitman are doing something different, I found myself missing the pace and energy Juno had. Young Adult is a slow film and at times it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. There isn’t much story here and consequently not much actually happens.  This wouldn’t be as much of a problem of the main character’s journey had been more insightful, but it isn’t. And despite the film’s short run time of an hour and a half, Young Adult has a tendency to drag. At the film’s core there are some interesting ideas about growing up, and the nature of being trapped in adolescence. However I feel like the film wasn’t sure what it really wanted to say about the topic and ended on a bizarre and unsatisfying note.

Another problem with the film is the general look of it. Reitman isn’t exactly what I’d call a visual auteur, but both Juno and Up in the Air were well-shoot films and enjoyable enough to look at. Here, the cinematography by Eric Steelberg is downright ugly. I realize the film takes place in a small town and they likely wanted to show that it was a dirty place, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very unpleasant film to look at. In all honesty, it felt like lazy work when compared to Reitman’s last two films.

So with all my complaints, you’re probably wondering if I found anything to like about this film and I did, the acting. The entire cast is solid here. Charlize Theron plays Mavis as selfish and ignorant. We don’t really grow to like her character because she is such a horrible person, but that’s sort of the point. That said, I think some of the praise for Theron has been a bit much. This is an actress who’s been getting some Oscar buzz for this role and quite frankly there have been several better female performances this year (and this is coming from someone who has yet to see The Iron Lady, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, We Need to Talk About Kevin, etc). The best performance in the film comes from Patton Oswalt as Matt. He manages to bring sadness to the part, but is also very funny and can be very likable. Of all the characters in the film, he’s the one we feel the most sympathy for. I can’t stress Oswalt’s importance to the film enough, for he raises it to a much higher level than it would be without him. The rest of the cast is fine, if unremarkable. The other thing I liked about this film was the dialogue, with some lines being really funny.

Young Adult is an incredibly flawed film and not up to the talents of the people who made it. I have a feeling the film will be something of a brief foot note in Jason Reitman’s career as it progresses. As for Diablo Cody, I’m not sure. I want to see her come back strong, but she hasn’t really done anything to wow me since Juno. Yet for all it’s problems, I will recommend Young Adult as a rental. If nothing else, I can say see it for Patton Oswalt, who might just deserve an Oscar nomination.

Rating: C-

  1. the dialogue is great. but i don’t think it’s ever slow, but i do agree that nothing truly revelatory happens, but there are several identifying character moments in the movie where i think she does realize herself. it’s subtle, but nicely done, i think.
    i don’t think charlize should be getting oscar buzz for this though. i wish diablo cody would though.

    • CMrok93 says:

      Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review PG.

  2. 5plitreel says:

    That’s too bad I love Wilson and he seems to be picking all the wrong roles nowadays. Having seen the trailer I hoped this would be a breath of fresh air, like an adult Easy A. We’ll see what I think of it when it hits Europe.

  3. I cant say you’re wrong on any count.

    I can say I guess I connected with Charlize’s character more than you did, and then subsequently, I wound up having a better time watching the film. By connected, I dont mean “liked” she was a very unlikeable character. But… perhaps the differences in ages here gives me a different perspective on where her point of view might be coming from. Not sure.

    Anyways, not that I was in love with it or anything. B- is pretty much what I consider my lowest “good” grade. Anything that starts with a C or lower, I pretty much feel like I’m calling it a “bad” film.

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