“And I noticed you got a KenTacoHut. You know, one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell.”
Young Adult is yet another female driven dark comedy written by the magnificent Diablo Cody. Since her movies always feel like an extended vagina monologue gone meta, it’s hard for me not to love them. Her written work paired with the human smirk that is the film’s Director Jason Reitman make for a bangin’ film.
“This is a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world, and while she looked so sad in photographs I absolutely love her” prophesied Nine Days’ John Hampson 12 years ago. No, Absolutely (Story of a Girl) is not a song about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), Young Adult’s protagonist, but god damn do those lyrics run deep. Anyway, Mavis is the author of a young adult series, not a fucking kid’s series, a young adult series. She comes from a small town called Mercury where no one makes anything of themselves, so after her divorce she returns to try and rekindle things with her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). In the interim, she connects with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a crippled man-child who also went to her high school. They befriend each other and then shit hits the fan. And by shit, I mean Mavis.
There’s something about how Cody writes women that is so alluring. Maybe I, like everyone else who consumes primarily male written, directed, and produced films, am starved for authentic female characters. In any case, the essence of a woman as told by another woman added immensely to this film’s appeal.
This film flourished in intermediate scenes. When Mavis is covering her face in concealer. When she goes from a grease stained crumpled up napkin, to a cardigan-ed, powdered, primped mannequin/Rolling Stones groupie. When she eats trash, and watched trash television and walks down the street. When she listens to music in her car. Cody has a way of giving the atmosphere of reality. As kitschy as her films are, I always felt like I was watching real events, and real people. Albeit, pretty fucked up people.
Charlize Theron herself is massively versatile. She is one of those rare actresses who can travel seamlessly from one genre to the next. I still haven’t been able to wash her haunting performance from Monster out of my brain. She was such a shit stain in this film that it made you kind of hate her, but it was so superbly acted that at the end of the film you felt you’d been through the taxing emotional experience that she had been through. You understood the mundane terror of feeling like your life has gone all wrong, and that it is too late to fix it.
The stand out performance for me was given by Patton Oswalt, a comedic actor in a comparatively dramatic role. His performance was real, and convincing and funny all at once. For me he really nailed the dark comedy. He’s one of those unexpected gems.
As for how the movie was written, Cody is just a genius comic. If you can find a way to get down in the mud with her, you can’t not enjoy yourself. The film is filled to the brim with quirky little characteristic quips. Her style is so culty. I just see her with a wide brimmed hat sitting on the edge of some roof, smoking cigarettes thinking ‘how can I get Charlize Theron to say the phrase ‘theater fag”?
The whole premise of the film. ‘Pyschotic prom queen bitch’ going back home to relive her glory days only to have a huge mirror shoved in her face, in the form of everyone she used to know. Seeing what became of all the youth from her past. Fucking used tampons and crushed soda cans of people
scattered across the school yard, wishing they were somewhere else. Someone else. Finally it all culminates in an epic meltdown where we learn all the unsettling details of Mavis’ haunted past, that settles the score once and for all. The popular girl is just as miserable and unfulfilled as anyone else. Probably more miserable. It’s all very familiar, but Cody manages to make it…..well, Cody. I’ll need to see it a few more times, but for me the movie did exactly what it was meant to do. A good dark comedy cuts deeper than a good drama. I think this one came quite close.
Mavis Gary: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra Freehauf: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die. Fuck Mercury.