Young Adult is basically an R-rated quasi-dramatic train wreck version of Just Friends which starred Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart. While Just Friends was playful romantic-comedy, this 94 minute feature sees a depressed hot mess (Charlize Theron) setting her distorted sights on more than satisfied target (Patrick Wilson). Let the awkwardness begin.
At the helm is 4-time Oscar Nominee, Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). His signature use of blending plausible real-life scenarios with subtle moments of comedy is usually pitch-perfect. This time around, he struggles to bring the script by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) together.
Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) was the small-town beauty queen who made it out and found success in the big city; in this case, Minneapolis. She is currently feeling some pressure from her career as a fiction writer for a fledging young adult series (high school setting), and it doesn’t help that she just got divorced. To remedy this depression she finds herself in, she retreats to her hometown unannounced and secludes herself at a Hampton Inn with her socialite-looking dog, Dolce (makes sense when all she does is watch reality shows like The Kardashians).
As she pounds whiskey (straight-up), she decides the best way to get her life back on track is to seek out her first love, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Buddy is happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), and the couple who never ventured away from the quaint Minnesota town, just welcomed their first child. None of this deters Mavis, as she bides her time – drinking while writing what she observes at random fast-food joints – waiting to win back her lost flame.
While this could sound like a typical rom-com, the introduction to the Mavis character thwarts all those stereotypes and/or expectations right away. The broken character is instantly thrown at you and there is nothing funny about this initially. That is until Patton Oswalt – playing the high school loser no one remembers – weaves his way in and brings with him the comical, and surprisingly substantial, moments of this script. Charlize Theron does have the talent to carry a movie on her own, yet there are doubts that without Oswalt’s presence, one would be tuning out about halfway through.
Though a key part of the story; Patrick Wilson is essentially driving in just above cameo mode here. In his limited screen time though, his actions and persona properly showcase just how far-off the Mavis character is; which adds to the entertaining awkwardness that pops up during all their scenes. Even just the wardrobe choices say so much about how off our lead is when mingling in her hometown. The duo does not engage in the most shocking banter, and it is predictable in some respects, yet it does the job in keeping with the projected atmosphere. Moments such as this give credence that the screenplay is solid, but Reitman’s handling and piecing together of sequences isn’t as smooth as his past works.
It’s almost as if the “glue segments” were cut out due to time constraints or budget reasons. In other words, cinematically, this is not the most concise piece of storytelling through the lens, as it appears to be a mash-up or series of first draft thoughts, sans the polish rewrite. The transitioning to a new mood if you will, had lackluster execution; leading to a rough projection of what Reitman wanted to get out of the audience. Still, the brutal conversations are fairly entertaining and the performances sell it just enough to keep your attention all the way through.
Overall, Young Adult is a catchy independent film that could have used some commercial shine. While its storytelling methods and tone are all over the place, there are enough hooks (witty dialogue & fine acting) to encourage one to take-in this realistic entertaining debacle.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5