More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 4.55%
Average: 18.18%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 9.09%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Great Battle, The by Jay Seaver

True Fiction by Jay Seaver

Pick of the Litter by Jay Seaver

Fahrenheit 11/9 by Peter Sobczynski

House With A Clock In Its Walls, The by Peter Sobczynski

Life Itself (2018) by Peter Sobczynski

Unity of Heroes by Jay Seaver

Hanagatami by Jay Seaver

Predator, The by Jay Seaver

Fahrenheit 11/9 by Rob Gonsalves

subscribe to this feed

Young Adult
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brett Gallman

"37 going on 16."
5 stars

Charlize Theron’s most memorable performance to date can be found in “Monster,” where her character was both a physical and spiritual match for the title. In “Young Adult,” the latest film from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, Theron once again inhabits a role that many might consider monstrous: 37 year old Mavis Gary, the ghostwriter of a series of popular young adult novels who often wakes up face down in her bed after a night of boozing. And while she’s not exactly channeling Aileen Wuornos again, we’re presented with a pretty unflattering portrait of a lady who is possibly delusional and heartless. However, getting past this coarse exterior is the key to unlocking “Young Adult,” and it’s a feat that’s made easy by both Cody’s script and Theron’s performance.

There’s no doubt where both the writer and the actress’s sympathies lie, and that’s squarely with Mavis. Sure, she may be an alcoholic who takes off to her old, small town to try and steal back an old flame (Patrick Wilson) that’s happily married and with a newborn baby, but the her loneliness and desperation is palatable. Calling her a disheveled mess would be putting it kindly, and the film’s opening scene paints a perfect picture of a woman whose life somehow got away from her; I hesitate to say she let herself go, but one senses that she’s given in to a life that’s constantly accompanied by the din of reality TV starlets that have the life she may have envisioned for herself.

Only she’ll never admit any of this, and that’s what makes this character so fascinating. She’s the former high school socialite that somehow made it out of the trap of a hick town, so she still sneers in contempt as she condescends to return. On her first night out, she runs into Matt (Patton Oswalt), one of those guys she could never see from her prom queen pedestal even though their lockers were right next to each other for four years. He’s not only emotionally crippled like Mavis, but also physically so, as he was assaulted by a group of jocks in high school; the two form an unexpected bond that actually starts with Matt flatly telling Mavis she’s insane and needs therapy for trying to win back Buddy Slade.

He’s right, of course, but there’s still something charming about Mavis’s brazenness; in fact, a lot of the film’s humor derives from how outrageously unrepentant she is. She constructs an elaborate fantasy out of her own plot, but she also seems oblivious in her interactions with just about everyone, such as the hotel desk clerk that greets her. Theron’s performance is remarkable in her ability to clearly convey all of this without losing the sympathetic core to the character. Reducing a performance to simply being found “all in the eyes” is probably trite at this point, but it really applies here. Mavis has an icy, almost vindictive glare that she no doubt perfected while navigating the high school social circles; however, there are other moments where you can feel her heartbreak as she’s forced to realize that her fantasy is crumbling before her eyes.

The effectiveness of the character hinges mostly on Theron because Cody’s script cleverly conceals the real tragedy underlying Mavis’s desperate quest. We easily sense that she’s somehow even more broken than she appears the entire time, but we don’t get the full breadth of it until the film’s emotionally devastating climax that’s buried like a landmine. This may make “Young Adult” seem heavier than it actually is, but it certainly hews more towards drama more so than comedy. This is Cody’s most mature script to date, picking up the threads of middle-age angst started by Jason Bateman’s character in “Juno”; I’m not sure this script is as distinctive or effortless as her debut, but it’s no less satisfying. Her trademark gabby dialogue is mostly shuffled away and almost seems to be parodied by some of the silly things Mavis overhears the teenage girls say when she’s out on the town listening for inspiration. This is not say that there aren’t some great, humorous interactions, though, as everything with Theron and Oswalt clicks, from the daft moments to the heavy ones.

The writing also sometimes gets a little too on the nose, such as when we see Mavis writing her latest YA novel that acts as an obvious mirror for her own struggles, but this also slyly subverts the rote, storybook nature of storytelling. In many ways, I think Mavis has convinced herself that she can write her own happy ending by willing it with her own writing. Somehow, she has become her own audience--insecure, lonely, and seeking validation through a romance that even she doesn’t quite understand.

Like many teenage girls, she’s latched on to Buddy as an ideal; specifically, he symbolizes that seemingly perfect life she once had. By reclaiming him, she somehow reclaims her life all at once. That much is obvious, and this film is at times an indictment on misplaced nostalgia. “Young Adult” has a woman trying to reclaim her 90s glory, which is somewhat ironic since she’s only just now feeling the grunge-laden angst that decade is mostly famous for (and, yes, Cody and Reitman take us back audibly--Teenage Fanclub will especially be happy to be remembered thanks to being part of a memorable gag here). One of the most striking images is Mavis’s bedroom at her parents’ house; still decorated just as it was when she was 17, it perfectly reveals what she’s trying to recapture--even though she never really left.

You might guess that the film’s ultimate moral involves her learning what she really wants, and, as this is a Diablo Cody script, you might also surmise that is doesn’t give in to anything syrupy and maudlin. Again, it’s perhaps spelled out a little too nicely, but, tonally, the resolution is perfectly in line with what the film commits to from the opening frame. Once again, Cody manages to juxtapose Mavis’s writing with her own life, taking each to a place that’s both somewhat dark and hopeful--if you can consider being ready to finally face life at the age of 37 to be a hopeful proposition.

Maybe that sounds terrifying, but, for some, it’s a bit cathartic. And catharsis really is at the center of “Young Adult.” We can see that in Mavis’s writing, which is like a conduit for the fantasy she’s constructed, but I’m also guessing this is Cody working out her own hang-ups to move on from the scripts that have defined her. Even if that isn’t the case, it’s difficult to deny the catharsis that’ll be experienced by those that have found themselves in Mavis’s position of slipping into adulthood and being deeply disappointed to realize their best days may be behind them. Quite frankly, this film wrecked me, and I could hardly blame her for wanting to cling to something that seems less empty and vapid than her disappointing life.

Your mileage will obviously vary depending on how much you’ve “grown up”; at the very least, however, this is an honest vindication of people who manage to get stuck in an endless cycle of denial and self-loathing well beyond their teenage years. Getting out is the tricky, painful part, as “Young Adult” so deftly reveals.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/17/11 19:12:49
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

9/13/12 Matthew Thompson Dalldorf Good, dry comedy 5 stars
4/12/12 Hoss Paragraphs are your friend. Try hitting enter once in a while. 3 stars
3/13/12 May Q. Horney Scary. It is too hard to doubt that Charlize Theron resembles the characters she plays. 1 stars
1/27/12 Hilda Hopkins Since female stalkers are so in vogue, lead should have been played by Scary Blundergood. 1 stars
1/26/12 Devin Sabas finally a movie that tells it like it is... people dont grow. LOVED IT 5 stars
1/23/12 The whole truth about sexism will never be told Do a gender-reversal version of this, and you'd have a hated "crazed" stalker. 2 stars
1/17/12 Jenny Tullwartz Get a grip, folks! Mavis not THAT worthy of our sympathies! Ending TOO ambiguous! 3 stars
1/02/12 Vicki The ambiguity was the definite keynote. It''s difficult turning corners you're unaware of 4 stars
12/17/11 Ming Great performance by Charlize. I love the idea of reliving ur high school days 3 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  09-Dec-2011 (R)
  DVD: 24-Apr-2012


  DVD: 24-Apr-2012

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast