Monday, January 09, 2012

Young Adult--A Review

It is apprarently fashionable to hate Diablo Cody--especially to hate her breakout movie Juno. I am not going to get on that band wagon, since I thought Juno did exactly what it had to do--it had to announce that Diablo Cody knew what she was doing. Plus it was enjoyable as hell while telling a story that could otherwise have fallen into the hole of A Very Special Episode of The Facts of Life. Teen pregnancy, blended families, divorce, inappropriate relations between a high school teacher and student, the strains on a marriage of infertility and then parenthood--all were encompassed in the story which still managed to be funny, hopeful and open-hearted.

Young Adult is not another Juno, and I have no idea if Juno-haters will like this one better. I liked it, and the evidence of this blog is that I hate everything, so make of that what you will. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, living alone in a high rise apartment overlooking the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, struggling to write the last installment of a high school novel series call "Waverly High." Despite her glamorous job title, docile purse dog and big city life, Mavis's life isn't what she thought it would be. Her apartment, for example--the view is great, the furniture is crap. She is a published author of a crap serial that is being remaindered even as she writes the last title. She's Charlize Theron for crap's sake, but much of her beauty is revealed to be a show as we watch her elaborate preparations for a date.

The movie shows us all of this, without feeling the need to spell it out explicitly for us. The dog, for example. It's a Pomeranian and she's bought a special travel case to cart him around in, but she does only the minimum of daily care for him. She never walks him, instead shoving him onto the tiny balcony of her apartment where she's placed a tiny square of artificial grass and (IIRC) a plastic fire hydrant. When she goes back to her small town hometown, she leaves him in the hotel room with a pee pad. This is a woman who gives the barest minimum effort and seems to resent even that much. She is a toxic mess on a mission of disaster.

What plot there is involves her receiving an email from her old high school boyfriend, announcing the birth of his first daughter. Mavis decides this is a cry for help, and she packs up and drives home in order to rescue Buddy from his marriage and baby. In a sharply observed juxtaposition, Mavis calls him from a bar, where she is downing drinks while dressed for serious clubbing. He answers the phone and we never even see his face, just his hands as he empties the milk from a pair of breast pumps into sealable bags which he labels and freezes. Of course, Mavis doesn't see this either--it is a phone call after all--but even if she were in the room with him, she wouldn't see what this means to him. She would only see it as disgusting evidence of his trapped status.

The movie proceeds to show us Mavis doing all she can to recapture the glory days of high school while avoiding the mess of her life. Out withe her dog, she is obviously being followed by a car--which turns out to be her mother, who she has obviously been avoiding. Back in her parents' house, she finds a large framed wedding photo still on the wall. When she asks her mother to take it down, Mom doesn't have any sympathy or understanding why it might be objectionable. "We are divorced, Mom." "Well, I thought it was a happy memory." "Of my failed marriage?" "The wedding wasn't a failure--remember the tirimisu?"

Added to the mix is Matt Freehauf, played by Patton Oswalt. Their lockers were next to each other all through high school, but she doesn't recognize him at all until she makes the connection to him as "the hate crime guy." He had been beaten savagely by some high school athletes who thought he was gay. It caused some attention until it turned out that he wasn't even gay and then even that attention dried up. Mavis uses him as a drinking buddy and a sounding board for her plans to escape with Buddy. Matt sees this as the delusional plan that it is, but he is obviously lonely and again--this attention is better than none. So he drinks with Mavis, listens to her reminiscences and tries to make her see what reality looks like.

The film cycles through her various attempts to fascinate and connect with Buddy, and his gentle Minnesota refusal to engage or to call her on her bullshit. The climax comes at a baby naming ceremony and reception at Buddy's house. Mavis embarrasses herself in front of the entire population of people she knows, and she runs from the scene to Matt, who offers her some sympathy and (more importantly) alcohol and sex to soothe the blow to her self-esteem. Even so, she is beginning to question herself when she meets Matt's younger sister the morning after. Sandra obviously idolized Mavis in high school and has continued to do so even now. As Mavis voices her self-doubt, Sandra quickly reassures her. "You are so much better than the people here" she says, and Mavis swallows this KoolAid. The "learning moment" was presented, and she resolutely refused it. More damning, Mavis so thoroughly returns to her self-centered ways that she destroys whatever relationships she might have built with Matt and Sandra--she slips out of town before Matt wakes up, and when Sandra asks "take me with you to Minneapolis" Mavis refuses. "You are good here" she says, which is brutal after Sandra has just explained how pathetic the people of Mercury actually are. It's like she not only bites the hand that feeds her, but she rubs salt in the wound as well.

The movie ends with a sly parody of the young adult genre. As Mavis drives back to Minneapolis, we hear her voice-over reading the last paragraph of her "Waverly High" book, intoning platitudes about how she was ready to leave the past (and high school) behind and face the real world. Which would be a cliche, except it is painfully clear that Mavis Gary has not made that leap herself.

Definitely worth the two hours of time to watch, and likely to be a regular repeat on a number of cable channels in the near future. Check it out.

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