David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t the only “feel bad movie of the holidays.” There’s also Young Adult, a rather dark comedy that reunites the director and screenwriter behind Juno, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.
Young Adult is the story of Mavis (played winningly by Charlize Theron), a former high school mean girl who has grown up to be a lonely, alcoholic ghost writer of young adult literature. Mavis is struggling to write her latest book when she gets an e-mail announcing that her former high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson, who defines dreamy) is not only married but his wife has just given birth to their first child. Mavis does what we would all do if we found ourselves in similar circumstances: she promptly returns to her old hometown and plots to break up Buddy’s happy marriage*. (Or as Mavis puts it: “We can beat this thing.”)
Once she returns to her hometown, Mavis not only struggles to reconnect with Buddy but also runs into another former high school classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt, who deserves every sort of award nomination that there is for his performance here). As opposed to Mavis, Matt was an outcast in high school who, during his senior year, was beaten and permanently crippled by a bunch of bullies who had decided that he was gay. Much as Mavis has won fame as a writer, Matt has won his own sort of fame as “the hate crime guy.” Despite themselves, Mavis and Matt start to bond over their own inability to move on with their lives past high school.
As you might guess from the plot synopsis above, Young Adult is a not a laugh-out-loud comedy. Instead, it’s a comedy of awkward moments and “Oh no, she didn’t!” moments. It’s not always an easy movie to recommend because Mavis is an apologetically unlikable character. However, as the film goes on, you can’t help but respect the fearless way that the film tackles a character that doesn’t really offer up much chance for a crowd-pleasing redemption. Obviously, for this to work, Charlize Theron has to give a brilliant performance in the lead role and she does. However, the film truly belongs to Patton Oswalt, who plays his role with a perfect combination of anger, self-pity, and sarcasm. He provides this film with its own fractured heart and we’re all better off for it.
* Okay, technically, maybe not everybody would do that. But I would.