Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Young Adult

Director Jason Reitman has thus proven to be the Ridley Scott to his father, Ivan Reitman's Tony Scott if that make any sense. While Ivan hasn't made a single movie worth watching since Dave in 1993, Jason has been steadily putting out films that might not break the bank, box office wise, but manage to be smart and meaningful, while still being funny. And while Young Adult isn't quite on the level of Up in the Air, it's still a unique and interesting character study.

That last part isn't kidding, Young Adult exists primarily as character study (which shouldn't be THAT shocking, since two of Jason's previous previous films were character studies). The character in question is Charlize Theron's Mavis, which means this might finally be a career resurrection for Charlize, who could use it. What makes it unique in that regard is that it is a study of a character who isn't a great person or an evil monster, but merely completely and thoroughly unlikeable in almost every respect. She's an alcoholic, caustic, bitter and often rather cruel. It's a unique place to be, because by the end we so despise Mavis that it makes very weird to discover we also pity her.

The plot is concerned with Mavis, a ghost writer and female equivalent of a manchild deciding, apparently appros of nothing, that she and her high school boyfriend were meant to be together. She then sets out to go win him back. Problamatically, he's still living in their tiny hometown while she's moved on to the big city. Oh and he's married and has a new kid. But she's not about to let that stop her.

Most of the attention is on Mavis, but there are generally interesting performances all around. Patton Oswalt finally gets a chance to shine on his own in a secondary as an actual manchild who Mavis starts bonding with, for obvious reasons. Patrick Wilson manages to find a weird spot where he's trying to maintain a level of politeness towards Mavis, despite his growing realization of what she's up to.

The script comes courtesy of Diablo Cody, late of the quite good Juno and the fucking terrible Jennifer's Body. She puts in a weird balancing act of despising Mavis while understanding and eventually pitying her. One of the things I like is that it's working off romantic comedy cliches occasionally and manages to brutally and repeatedly subvert the cliches. I don't want to spoil, but you'll know them when you see them.

Jason Reitman's direction is one of the weirdest aspects of the film, especially since like Margin Call it's completely musicless, so the actual pieces of music, usually bits of music being played by the characters, are all the more jarring. The direction, in particular the camera work, emphasize a sort of coldness and distance from it's main character. This is a tiny bit at odds with the oddly montage style of editing, but it all works incredibly well when it needs to. And while many of you may disagree, I found the movie's outright contempt for this bullshit myth we have about small town America (not small town America itself mind you, the bullshit myth we have about it) incredibly refreshing.

It's not a perfect movie by any means. While most of the acting is great, Elizabeth Reaser's performance feels oddly flat, which may be intentional. A recurring gimmick devoted to Mavis writing a young adult book, in which she is clearly writing what she's feeling about the situation, cuts down on the subtly a bit.

Regardless of it's flaws, Young Adult is a brave and unique film and well worth your time. It opens wide this friday and if you've been following my recommendations so far (HA, not likely) then you're probably caught up enough that this the best thing on your radar. So if you're interested and it's playing near you, don't miss this one.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's glad Diablo Cody has proven Juno wasn't a fluke.

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