You Can’t Go Home Again

Ever wonder what happened to your high school’s “It Girl”? You know, the one that seemed to have everything: looks, personality, appeal? (Well I’m right here, blogging and living the dream. Jk.) Diablo Cody, Academy Award winner for her pun-tastic script Juno, touches base with the high school pretty girl in Young Adult.

Reuniting Juno director Jason Reitman with screenwriter Cody, Young Adult tells the story of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), the beautiful yet aging former high school It Girl. Despite her vastly successful high school cool career, Mavis had  great aspirations of getting out of her small town and making something of herself.

To all intents an purposes, she achieved her dream, and perhaps lost it. Mavis moved away after graduation, married, landed an author’s gig ghost writing a popular teen series, and then divorced. To cap off the fall from grace, her book series Waverly Prep has fallen out of favor with the fickle, vampire-crazed teen audience. Living in a personality-less high-rise in Minneapolis, or “the big city” to those in her hometown of Mercury, Mavis experiences massive creative block in writing the final instalment of Waverly Prep. As a result, she spends much of her time avoiding writing by watching endless hours of Kardashians, dating unappealing men for free dinners, and eating fast food. Sounds familiar.

Escape comes when Mavis receives an email from former high school flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Buddy has become a new father with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), and emails pictures of their new offspring. Somehow, Mavis sees this as some sort of perverse sign that she is to reunite with Buddy, by any means necessary. She packs up her tiny, fluffy dog, her array of Hello Kitty graphic tees, and transplants herself into Buddy’s life in Mercury.

The only voice of reason in Mavis’s ridiculous scheme comes unexpectedly from Mercury resident Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former high school dweeb from Mavis’s graduating class. Much like Mavis, Matt has had equal trouble moving on from high school. He lives with his sister, works a thankless managerial job, and seems entirely fixed on a damaging high school incident. He and Mavis reunite in a bar, and Matt becomes perhaps the only character to tell Mavis how truly delusional and warped her plan is. Despite Matt’s objections, Mavis is unable to move on from the happiness she achieved in high school and on Buddy’s arm.

Perhaps the gutsiest aspect to Young Adult is Ms. Cody’s choice of protagonist; it takes a truly masterful writer to craft a successful film, such as this, around a character that the audience so dislikes and ultimately roots to fail. Mavis is through and through one dark, narcissistic little girl, trapped in a 30-something’s body. Obsessed only with herself, while paying little attention to the consequences of attaining her goals, Mavis seems altogether strong and weak, enlightened and defeated.

Ms. Theron does an absolutely stellar job at portraying every dead-pan, charmingly selfish quirk to her devious character. It takes an actress with ungodly amounts of natural beauty and charm to fill out Mavis’s pink sweats without total audience alienation. Her performance, both rude and disarming, is the cornerstone at which this film operates successfully.

Patton Oswalt rivals Ms. Thereon’s pitch-perfect execution, providing a flesh and blood characterization of the bitch slap so necessary to the counter-balance of Mavis’s wretchedness. As a thoroughly damaged character, Oswalt’s Matt operates in the acutely dual head-space of both the disgusted witness to Mavis’s perverse schemes, and the teenaged misfit still taken by her hair, her boobs, and her delicious cruelty.

Positively dripping with early 90’s nostalgia, Young Adult is Ms. Cody’s response to the hopeful, 90’s power-ballads by the Replacements or Teenage Fanclub, all of which left its adolescent audiences hanging on every promise of fulfillment. Ms. Cody presents the filmic idiom of what happens to the listeners, such as Mavis, who cannot move on from the wish-fulfillment wonder that their high school careers offered in spades. The result is a vastly sad, darkly funny, and entirely painful portrait of an It Girl whose promise never cashed-in.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I predict the sole nomination to be Ms. Theron’s for Best Actress. Well deserving as Ms. Theron is, she is not the only brilliance at work in Young Adult. Patton Oswalt’s performance is deeply moving and very in need of a Best Supporting Actor nod, one that I fear will not come. As for the screenwriter so schooled in 90s references and black comedy, I believe Ms. Diablo’s work is in desperate need of a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Again, I fear that Ms. Diablo will not receive the proper accolade.

What did you think of Young Adult? Do you think Diablo Cody deserves an Oscar nomination, or is this the punning end of the line? Drop me a word in the comment section, won’t you please?

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