This movie came out several months ago, but I’m starting a new movie review series titled, “Better Late Than Never.” This is the first entry.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I mean, I knew what I was in for, knew what the movie was about, I knew all about the tone and yet, I still wasn’t expecting that. Does that make sense? Good. I was blindsided and yet, isn’t it so wonderful when that happens? Young Adult is such a daring film, especially in these times, a film with a main character who is a terrible human being and who has no redeemable qualities. Everyone involved in the making of this film is immensely talented and they all brought their A+ game.
Charlize Theron, our heroine (or anti-heroine if you prefer) of the story plays Mavis, a semi-successful author/ghostwriter of a series of young adult novels. Mavis comes from a small town in Minnesota who now lives in the big city of Minneapolis. She’s kind of just there when we are introduced to her, drifting along in her successful but lonely life. Alarms are set off when she receives an e-mail from her ex-boyfriend, Buddy, from high school. She takes it as an invitation from Buddy to come and rescue him from his pathetic marriage and newborn child. Now, Theron has been in a lot of good films and has had numerous great performances in her career, but this one takes the cake for me and instantly jumps to the top of her resume.
Now the team-up of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody has become one of the top partnerships in the industry. Cody, most famous for writing Juno, knocked it out of the park with this screenplay. Now, director Jason Reitman is really amazing and it’s a little hard to believe that he’s just getting started. His last three film (Juno, Up in the Air and this one) are in my top 15 films of all-time. Now while it might seem like I’m jumping the gun, I stick by the statement. I could personally relate to each of his films on different levels. The only one that I did not fall in love with was his debut film Thank You For Smoking, which was a good film, but I personally was not invested in. So what do his three amazing films tell me about the man? Jason Reitman is a really cool dude that I would immediately hit it off with.
For me, this is that film and I could probably talk about it for days. You know, it’s that film about what became of everyone after high school. It’s about how everyone grew up, matured and are now doing what normal people do. But, much like Mavis, I do not find myself in that inner circle. I’m on the outside looking in, and wondering if those people are really happy or if they are just going through the motions and doing what society expects out of them. All the while, as successful as Mavis is, she’s empty inside and she is self-aware, knowing that she has problems and flaws and yet, does not really do anything about it. She wants to go back to a time when she has at her happiest, all the while knowing that even if she got what she wanted, she’d probably still be miserable. People always saw her and see her as this perfect, ideal woman, we get to see what no one else sees and know that it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
She visits the home of Buddy and his wife, saying inappropriate things, almost making us cringe. The one that got away’s wife is explaining what she does to Mavis, describing certain moods such as happy, sad and angry, Mavis then interrupts her and asks (almost reading my mind), “What if you feel nothing?” It’s a wow moment for me that I felt touched me inside. There were several small moments like that for me in this film.
Besides it being a very personal, intimate and serious film that deals with alcoholism and depression, it’s also a very funny film. I felt like many girls in high school or girls that are also stuck in a sort of arrested development could relate to the Mavis character. She finds her TV stuck on the E! channel watching Kendra and the Kardashians while carrying her tiny dog in a small purse. Many of the laughter comes from Mavis’ audacity. We are shocked at the person she is and can’t believe that type of person exists, yet, it’s hard not to laugh. Sometimes the laughter is the easy way out since there are a couple cringe-inducing moments in the film
While reconnecting with Buddy, she runs into another guy from high school. Patton Oswalt plays the gay, fat friend who suffered through a hate crime in high school, even though he wasn’t gay. He had a locker right next to Mavis all through-out high school and was invisible to Mavis until he was brutally attacked. The friendship that develops between the two never seems forced and that’s what I also love about the film. It never feels forced. She never sells herself out as a character. Where Cameron Diaz suddenly becomes a better person in Bad Teacher at the end of the film, Theron never goes through the same magical transformation. I loved that.
Towards the end of the film, she was close to going the way of Diaz, and it would have felt natural if she did change, the twist of no change occurring at all, made the film that much better for me. Oswalt’s sister gives Mavis a much needed pep talk and makes her realize that she was right and everyone else was wrong. She realizes how awesome she is and how dull their lives are. She’s told that everyone still wants to be like her, she’s out there doing things and going against the grain while everyone else are pretty much just going through the motions.
Now in the film, during certain points, she is stripped down. She is removed of make-up and we see the real her. Now in a specific moment, she’s literally naked and removed of everything; there is no more armor left. And…it is such a beautiful moment. Oswalt is at his best here as well, the moment feels earned (even if I would have preferred them not actually hooking up). A cliché scene and movie would probably have involved Mavis staying with Oswalt and his sister or the three of them moving to the big city, bettering each other and filling voids, it stops just short. It’s a very bleak script by Diablo Cody and yet that’s why it works. It’s real, where if I wanted the other scenario, I could just watch Bad Teacher.
Mavis leaves on her own, finally leaving things in the past, literally burning some of the items from her former relationship. The movie pretty much ends how it started, Mavis alone and as the same person. However, she does find herself in a way without really changing who she is, leaving an open ending much like Reitman’s last film did with George Clooney alone at the airport staring at the flight departures and arrivals. So what happens next? That’s the beauty of it…you can fill in the blanks. No one is wrong and I definitely know where she’s going, because it’s exactly where I am going. So much like Mavis tells Oswalt’s sister after the pep talk, I tell Reitman and everyone involved in making this film, “Thank you, I needed that.”