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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Young Adult (2011)

It’s a brand new day. A chick flick is playing on TV but the only person in the room is sleeping on her face. She wakes up and her prominent dark circles catch your attention. Mavis is divorced and in her mid thirties. She binges on coke, ice cream and alcohol. Her social life is confined to one night stands. ‘Waverly Prep’ is the name of a young adult series she’s served as an author for. The series is nearing its end and her boss is pounding her with phone calls asking her to get done with the final edition. This unending loop of events is interrupted by an e-mail from her high-school sweetheart, Buddy. Having grown weary of her lifestyle here she decides to pay hometown a visit and get him back, since “they were meant to be together.” Buddy is a married man now, busy raising his new-born daughter.

Doesn’t it sound like a chick flick? Don’t be mistaken. It’s a personality study; one that’s presented in a darkly comic manner.

On her way to her hometown, the fictional Mercury, Mavis repeatedly plays ‘The Concept’ by Teenage Fanclub; to prepare herself for the moment, to travel down memory lane, to get into character. She bumps into schoolmate Matt Freehoff, whom she makes her personal sidekick. Matt Freehoff comes from a darker place. He was hit in the legs and crotch with a crowbar by a bunch of homophobic juniours in high school.

Mavis pampers herself, undergoing all kinds of makeovers before her first reunion with Buddy. Social compliments from him are perceived in an amplified manner- as hints of interest and flattery. Her subtle attempts at provoking his wife and threatening their marriage by bringing up anecdotes from hers and Buddy’s romantic past are simply hilarious. There’s little to like about such a character but her narcissistic, cutting sense of humour makes for an entertaining watch.

The best line in the film is “Mother, I’m trying to tell a story here!” when she’s interrupted for throwing a tantrum at Buddy’s baby’s naming ceremony. The entire sequence of scenes is cleverly staged and unexpectedly funny. You have forgotten by now that Mavis Gary is played by the same actress who delivered one of the greatest female performances ever in Monster. She’s almost as unrecognizable here, in Young Adult. I’m not sure what the Academy was thinking; Charlize Theron should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand Mavis Gary but I know that she’s for real. However, it isn’t just her who runs away with the acting honours. There’s Patton Oswalt playing Matt Freehoff, a character who might not be nearly as memorable as Mavis but credible to the last detail.

Mavis has been writing as a teenager and for teenagers. Success makes its way into her life early and she’s gotten by without facing circumstances that would have given her the mental maturity she requires. Mavis has prolonged adolescence for way too long. Hence, the title.

The characterization of Young Adult is cemented within the first fifteen minutes with little aid of dialogue. We’re simply taken through the lead character’s daily routine and somehow, we know the sorry state of her life. Young Adult marks the second collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman after Juno. Cody was asked in an interview about her fixation on movies about adolescents. She wondered if she was stunted somehow and there, the seeds were sown for Young Adult. And Reitman is just brilliant at directing his actors, drawing the perfect response for each, and every, scene. Walking the line between comedy and drama is no walk in the park but he handles Cody’s characters so beautifully, when they could’ve so easily come off as caricatures.

Rating- 9/10.

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