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Tagline: Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.

Pizza: L.A.'s Valley Pizzaland



If anyone's in need of a psychiatrist, it's Mavis. Even she learns this...eventually. But like a car wreck in the "breakdown" lane, YOUNG ADULT (2011) lets us slow down and watch. Mavis is detestable. Mavis is real. Mavis does not belong in a Hollywood movie, but she is (as if she doesn't have enough problems).


I haven't seen such a split opinion on a movie since CHARLIE THE LONESOME COUGAR. People either love YOUNG ADULT or hate it. When I saw Diablo Cody (writer) and Jason Reitman's (director) film JUNO, I left thinking, 'this is a movie that thinks it's 10% smarter than it is.' I thought the same exact thing with YOUNG ADULT, but for different reasons (JUNO = snippy-snappy dialogue, ADULT = a metaphor-a-minute). But here's the truth - I really, really enjoyed both movies.

Charlene Thorazine, oops, sorry, typo. Make that...Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary (if you say it aloud, it's Mavis Scary), a late-thirties ghostwriter of WAVERLY PREP, a Young Adult book series that's been canceled (she's working on the last installment). As the movie plays out, we hear voiceover of Mavis' new book, with dialogue often appropriated by her eavesdropping on teens' conversations. It doesn't take long to realize that this Young Adult story parallels this YOUNG ADULT story.


Mavis is a divorced alcoholic whose life is circling the drain. YOUNG ADULT opens like a silent movie, detailing her routine, her dead end-ed-ness, her life which has become...small (she lives in the "Mini-Apple" and drives a Mini Coop). Slugabed Mavis wakes up to a TV that's been on all night, though now it's screening a mindless and mind-numbing reality show (KENDRA, I think). She drinks Diet Coke out of a 2-litre bottle, does some Playstation exercises, feeds cat food (I think) to her dog after locking it out on the terrace, and settles in at her computer to write her new book (and look at designer clothing and dating sites). It's Filmmaking 101, yet sometimes Filmmaking 101 is exactly what's needed.

One morning, she awakens to another (we assume this is a pattern) guy in her bed, locking her in place with his dead-weight arm, as if she's on a carnival ride. And when the thought of her high school boyfriend's newborn's birth announcement proves too much, she decides to go back home to the small Minnesotan town of Mercury. She was Queen Bee in high school, though others I'm guessing called her Queen Bitch (which is also the name of the Bowie song used in the trailer). She's going to get her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (that's a little too pornstar of a name, you know, like Diablo Cody), played by Patrick Wilson, back again.
Who cares if he's happily married and just had a baby? BUDDY: "Mavis, I'm a married man." MAVIS: "I know. We can beat this thing together." Welcome to the Unwieldable Psychosis of Mavis Gary (The original title?). Once again, it will be confirmed that sometimes a piece of ass is also a piece of work (The original tagline?). So Mavis ups and leaves, almost as if her house were on fire (leave the sleeping anonymous guy, take the Pomeranian). At this point, seven billion people know this is a bad idea; everyone in the world but Mavis. While blasting off for Mercury, a small town where Staples is a staple, she blasts her and Buddy's song from the 90s, Teenage Fanclub's THE CONCEPT, over and over and over on her original cassette tape from high school. She's so sure she'll snag Buddy that when she checks into the hotel she asks for two keys. And she's still wearing her sweats/Hello Kitty sleep-shirt from the night before. How is this girl going to change her life if she can't even change her clothes?

Of course, things don't go as planned, but Mavis is tenacious and nuts, the two traits that keep this movie on its path. And if it's not crystal clear that she is psychotic, witness her glee when she finally recognizes Matt (Patton Oswalt) from high school, but only after she realizes he was "the hate crime guy," beaten to a pulp by jocks because they thought he was gay. It's almost like she says to him, "I remember you! You're the guy who won $6 million in the lottery!" The reason why she didn't recognize Matt at first, even though she had the locker next to his, is because when she was in high school, she was cool, and if you weren't, then you were invisible. And that hasn't changed at all. She hasn't changed at all. Heck, she didn't even bother to tell her parents she's in town, her parents who, when she says "I think I'm an alcoholic," laugh. Apple, shake hands with tree.

Matt is also a bitter soul, but unlike Mavis, he's acutely aware of his misanthropy. With his pudgy frame which needs a crutch because of the high school incident, Matt knows exactly who he is. He doesn't love it, but he knows it. There's a great scene in a bookstore that shows exactly how oblivious Mavis is, whereas Matt's line, "Guys like me are born loving women like you," could not be more self-aware. When these two characters collide, YOUNG ADULT is at its best. Like honor among thieves, there's a respect underneath their mutual judging, which is either viciously funny or funnily vicious. But what's not funny, what's pathetic, actually, is Mavis' absolute denial of any voice of reason. No matter what is thrown in front of her, she will not only call, but will up the ante...and sometimes even go all in. She'll misinterpret or twist facts to fit her vision of what is meant to be. When she's invited to Buddy and his wife Beth's (Elizabeth Reaser) baby-naming party, she enters the scene like Tippi Hedren in MARNIE. The WAVERLY PREP voiceover, now manic, about her book's character Kendall doesn't help - "Life wasn't fair, and it was up to Kendall to step in and make things right. Sometimes in order to heal, a few people have to get hurt."

Mavis (Theron), Buddy (Wilson) and Beth (Elizabeth Reaser)

There are moments where we think, no...we hope, that Mavis will get it. When Beth and her lovable (yet terrible) rock band dedicate the song THE CONCEPT to Buddy, there's a moment of shock on Mavis' face (and mine too, truth be told). We witness her processing it, like RoboCop sizing up its next logical move, and for a second there, by the way she looks at Buddy during the song, it seems Mavis is coming to terms with it all. She's leaving the darkside and entering normalcy. But this is not the first nor will it be the last time she disappoints us all.

Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and Mavis (Charlize Theron

Director Reitman, no stranger to likable unlikable characters (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, JUNO) and writer Cody, no stranger to sharp characters without filters (THE UNITED STATES OF TARA, JUNO), do an unbelievable (and difficult) job of balancing comedy and tragedy. Sure, it's funny, but let's not pull any punches, this is a tragic story. "I really didn't know we were making a comedy" Theron claimed in interviews. I understand why she would say that, though she had to have known there were funny moments, like the scene between Mavis and the Hampton Inn desk clerk, played out as if they were having a "see who can out-wry each other" contest. Or when she's shopping for an outfit in Macy's to impress not Buddy, but to impress Beth (the salesperson, played by unknown Elizabeth Ward Land, should get some sort of acting award for this one minute role). And when Mavis sees Buddy's baby for the first time, her "adorable" is one of the most insincere (and hysterical) words uttered on screen. And come on, when she picks up Matt (a cripple, remember) so they can go out and get drunk, she barks at him, "Can you walk any slower?" She had to have known that was as funny as the way she considers sniffing Elmer's glue as if it's a casual thought.


I wish YOUNG ADULT would have tossed some (or even most) of the metaphors aside. Did she have to leave her world to go to a smaller one, Mercury? Did the stilted person who, in her head, is still a young adult have to write Young Adult books? Did she have to be a car wreck who actually wrecks her car? Did her and Buddy's song have to be by Teenage Fanclub (get it?)? There are so many metaphors that even the characters whine about them - MATT: "Why don't you use my crutch again as a metaphor? That was masterful."

Okay, it's time now to tell the world just how great Charlize Theron-Nathanson and Patton Oswalt are in YOUNG ADULT. I've seen Theron be really good before, so while I thought she was incredible here (she really was), Oswalt's the one who surprised me. To think that both of these people slid into acting from modeling and stand-up comedy (Theron and Oswalt, in that order, please).

Left to right: Patton Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf and Collette Wolfe plays Sandra Freehauf in YOUNG ADULT, from Paramount Pictures and Mandate Pictures
Though YOUNG ADULT is filled with people stuck in life (just about everyone we meet), it's Matt's sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe) who is either smart enough or dumb enough to say it out loud. She looks up to people like Mavis, who she sees as a stranded-in-a-small-town soul who rescued herself by living in the big city, as if that's what makes you successful and...happy. Like the Scarecrow hoping for a brain, Sandra asks Mavis to take her to Minneapolis with her, but as we learn in YOUNG ADULT, nothing changes in your life unless you make it happen. And although it's possible for Sandra to change, or even Matt to change, I'm pretty sure change will never happen to Mavis. "I don't think people change that much," Cody's said in an interview. And I think she's right. But you know what they say; you can't judge a (Young Adult) book by its cover. In the end, just when you think Mavis conquers her hurdles by opening up, it just spills out like wine on a silk dress.


Once again, we watched some ephemeral films. First up, a cautionary tale from 1958 about the dangers of teen alcohol abuse with the ambiguous title ALCOHOL IS DYNAMITE (does that mean alcohol is good or bad?). When Jack and Bud are unable to buy liquor at a store, they try to recruit a passerby (our narrator), sports reporter Tom. Instead, Tom tells us the story of Paul, Jim and...(wait for it)....(keep waiting)....Tip. Well, they all start drinking, then become alcoholics, get some girls who drink too, and someone dies in a car crash. "You'd be surprised to learn how little it takes to get you tight the first time."

Next, a promo from 1969 from the cotton industry disguised as a travelogue about GREENWICH VILLAGE, which I'm almost certain was narrated by Leonard Nimoy. "In the shadows of modern Manhattan, surrounded by glass and steel, yet only a subway stop away from the seething city, with its crowds of people, hectic workday schedules, and office routines, lies the sleepy village called Greenwich, a suburban oasis where one can gather thoughts and enjoy the wonders of nature or saunter through winding streets." This run-on sentence (which is almost as bad as some of mine) is to the visual of people cutting flowers, grilling backyard burgers and shopping. Somehow, this turns into a pro-cotton neighborhood. I guess it's what the cotton industry wanted the bohos to wear.

We finished with HOLIDAY FOR RULES, about four kids (acting experience not necessary) who are fed up with rules. The unseen narrator teaches them how much we need rules by having them imagine themselves on an island. But I had some issues with this one. Some of the rules weren't really rules, like not being selfish and sharing your hamster. Oh well. Adults lying to kids again.

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