The award-friendly duo of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody reunite after the success of Juno with the Charlize Theron vehicle Young Adult. It was a moderate success taking $20m from a budget of $12m, which compared to Juno’s $230m haul at the box office must be considered a disappointment.
Life has not quite worked out the way Mavis Gary (Theron) expected. She was the most popular girl at school and on course to marry her sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and live in the lap of luxury, however after the two broke-up Gary went on to become a ghost writer on a successful young adult literature series and her sweetheart married someone else. Now 37, Gary receives an email informing her that said sweethearts wife was pregnant and taking it as a sign that they should be together, she journeys back to her home town and attempts to win him back, much to the chagrin of new friend Matt (Patton Oswalt).
Cody found some criticisms levelled at her for the distinctive and rather adult-sounding dialogue given to precocious teenagers in Juno and Jennifer’s Body. Convinced that she gave her characters the voices of an older woman trying to sound like a teenager, Cody flipped the criticism by giving voice to a character who actually is an adult trying to relive their teenage years. It’s a smart move and with Charlize Theron giving a superb account of herself as the ‘young adult’ they manage to strike a sort of venomous comedy gold similar to Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa.
Another surprising element of Young Adult is how sympathetic the obnoxious and conniving Mavis Gary becomes. As she slowly loses her grip on sanity, she gets closer to perennial loser Matt and their relationship blossoms as an unlikely romance. It’s the moments with these two that Young Adult finds its home, will the more ‘in your face’ confrontations quickly become tired and stale.
While not on a par with the truly excellent Juno, Young Adult is comparable in quality to Cody’s second script Jennifer’s Body as a surprising and quite understated black comedy. Some will find the resolution frustrating and the confrontations between certain characters hackneyed and predictable, but in Theron and Oswalt it has a solid heart and soul that makes it all worthwhile.