Young Adult, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's follow up to Juno, is what I call “a cool little movie.” Hang on, hear me out. I mean that it tells a simple and confined story with great performances, and the best part is that it doesn't end as you would expect a movie like this to end.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a thirty seven year old ghost writer of a series of young adult books that is reaching the end of its run. Like the protagonist of the books she writes, Mavis believes that her high school years were the best of her life. She holds on to this belief to the point that, upon receiving a photo of her high school sweetheart's newborn baby, Mavis decides to visit the small Michigan town of Mercury that she grew up in so that she can win her sweetheart back. Yes, after he’s just had a baby.
Mavis' narcissism barely conceals her crippling depression, but as the story progresses we gain a deeper understanding – and even sympathy – for why she is the way she is.
Now that the summary’s out of the way, let's talk about expectations in movies for second. I have a point here, I promise. There's a difference between a movie going down an expected path and a movie being predictable. Predictability is when you can anticipate what happens next before it happens. Predictability sucks.
But expectations, they take place in the subconscious. We've all watched a billion movies. Our brains have been trained in how to watch a movie and in what to expect from a movie's narrative.
Young Adult makes a conscious choice not to go down the expected route, and that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s much harder than simply not being predictable, and it’s the best thing about the film.
Young Adult acts as a thesis statement against traditional hollywood endings and all the things that screenwriting “gurus” like to harp on about. Sure, the voice over, which gives us excerpts of the young adult novel Mavis is struggling to write, stands out as an annoying “device”. But Theron's turn as Mavis, and equally engrossing performances by Patrick Wilson as her high school sweetheart and Patton Oswalt as a former high school misfit stuck in Mercury, more than make up for it.
When I told a few of my friends I was reviewing this movie, they hadn’t heard of it. I know I’m more film-obsessed than other people, but I still found this odd. After all, this is the hugely successful team behind Juno.
But Young Adult is a darkly comedic character study of a narcissistic personality. Very different from the Juno vibe, and possibly why it’s lesser known. But for me, these two things are exactly what make it successful and make it worth taking a trip back to 2011 to have a look.