EXPECTATIONS: Diablo Cody has become one of those artists I hate discussing. This is not because I feel she is over-hyped or untalented or that her work isn't very good, but because I'm tired of the same damn arguments Internet people put up against her every time her name is mentioned. "She tries too hard!" "She's fake-indie!" and "But but but no one talks like that!" are not actual criticisms. (Spoiler alert: No one talks like anyone in any movie you've ever seen.) In any case, I've enjoyed all Jason Reitman's films so far, and I'm always excited for Patton Oswalt to be on screen, and I thought I was excited for Charlize Theron's big comeback, but apparently she's been in at least one movie a year for the past 15 years. Damn.
REALITY: Everyone who grew up in a major metropolitan area, please leave the review now. This is not for you. If you've never avoided going to Walmart for fear that you would run into someone you went to junior high with, then you will not understand what we're talking about. Go re-read Joe's Alvin and the Chipmunks trilogy.
Are they gone? Good. I hate those yuppies. Now that it's just us good ol' boys and gals, let's talk shop. Like many people who came from a small town, I absolutely despise it. And yet, like many of you, no matter how far I go from that small town, no matter how much it sickens me to see it, there is still some force that constantly draws me back to it. It doesn't matter how much or how little you accomplish, the town you grew up in is your own personal Hotel California: You may have checked out, but you can never really leave. (Also like Hotel California, your hometown is probably a thinly veiled metaphor for purgatory. Or maybe coke addiction.) This lost feeling that you were actually born of a vortex that will be pulling you toward its epicenter for all of eternity is the core of Young Adult, and here's where it gets tricky: It doesn't necessarily condemn it.
I'll just let that one sink in.Young Adult shows us the life of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a narcissistic drunken reality-TV junkie who makes her living as a ghostwriter for a failing series of Gossip Girl-type novels. After receiving a SEND TO ALL e-mail from her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick "Still Awesome" Wilson) announcing his newborn daughter, she decides to head back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to win him back from his wife and child. No, this logic doesn't make sense to anyone but her; that's kinda the point of the movie.
Along the way, she meets fellow classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt, in a knockout performance), a man famous in town for having been beaten to the point of crippledom during Senior Year by some jocks who thought he was gay. Matt and Mavis strike up an odd friendship based mainly on mutual loneliness, as he desperately tries to get her to give up her misguided quest. This is basically the movie. It spins around these plot points for awhile, making pit stops to deal with Mavis' parental issues and Matt's semi-justifiable pessimism, and finally it comes to a head and... and that's it. There's no moral lesson learned, there's no real character arc, no one climbs on top of a bus and screams, Mavis doesn't change her ways and buy the fattest goose in the window for Tiny Tim's Christmas dinner, it just kinda goes on. And that's the brilliance of it.
Young Adult takes a long, hard look at a handful of people. Some of them are happy in their lives. Others are completely broken, figuratively and literally. The only thing that ties them together is the town of Mercury. The film brings up a lot of challenging questions about what this means, and it doesn't attempt to answer any of them. At first it's easy to read it as a condemnation of small-town life and the people it creates, but the only people who are truly happy in the movie are Buddy and his wife, who have never left. We're supposed to laugh at Mercury's attempt to pass off having a new Chipotle and a combination KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut as progress, but when she's in the city, Mavis is still just eating McDonald's. Somewhere, some critic is condemning this film for its product placement -- and completely missing the point.
At the same time, Mercury and its people are apparently so depressing that other characters, like Matt's sister Sandra (Colette Wolfe), wish they had Mavis' life, even though Mavis is a miserable person who no one should want to be like. If they weren't from a small town, then Mavis wouldn't seem accomplished at all, because she's not. The only accomplishment she's made is moving. So it's also a slam against small towns for putting that delusion in people's heads. The unambitious Buddy is content with his lot in life, though it's not very noteworthy. Mavis is unhappy with her life because she wants it to be noteworthy, and Sandra is unhappy with her life because she wants it to be what she thinks Mavis' is. All of this is due to their level of contentment with the town of Mercury. Oh, but wait, Matt's horrible position in life is actually directly BECAUSE of the town and its people and... this movie is doomed to be killed by the ambiguity-hating American Public.
Joyful relationship building.
In his Easy A review Jay Dub asked how long it would take before we finally started feeling nostalgic for the '90s, and it's happened, sir. The movie's opening credits literally take us inside a mix tape, because Mavis' Mini Cooper apparently has the only stereo to feature both satellite radio AND a tape deck. Between this, The Wackness, and of course, the city of Portland, Oregon, we've got plenty of love for the decade of flannel. Young Adult is actually the perfect storm of irony and disaffectedness, a combination of the story Diablo Cody has always wanted to tell with the same kind of relativity Jason Reitman brought to Up In The Air. This is Cody's most personal project, and it shows in her script. I'd just like to point out here that when Diablo Cody writes the closest thing she's ever done to a self-insert, she deliberately makes that character an author of blatant self-insert characters. I kinda love that.
Let's imagine that Reality Bites is the movie that defined "Generation X." Young Adult is what happens when a group of people finally admit that film is nearly 20 years old, Winona Ryder is playing peoples' moms now, and the face of the generation is really more like Patton Oswalt, less like Ethan Hawke. It's a coming-of-age story where everyone involved is in their forties. In this regard, it lends credence to the idea of a "Peter Pan" generation, still refusing to grow up, though the people who have matured the least are still the least satisfied. For most viewers, this is a story of broken people, but for a certain generation, between the ages of 35 and 48, this is going to hit home as an age-defining picture. (Unfortunately, this is the Internet, and the only people who will read this article are white males between 14 and 28.) Basically, Young Adult is just like Garden State, minus the feeling that you want to punch everyone involved in their pretentious faces.
MINORITY REPORT: Getting old and never growing up is probably going to become more of a problem with each generation. Just look at the damn bronies. - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
Yes, it's the perfect form for surviving a car crash. But it's also the perfect form for so much more, like surviving the trauma of reading any news headline in 2016.
It's just a little confusing, is all.
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