Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Young Adult (2011) – Review

Review: Young Adult is funny, but sort of depressing. The film centers around Mavis, a 37 year-old woman who returns to her small hometown hoping to rekindle a romance with her high school sweetheart Buddy after her own failed marriage, jolted to action when she receives a baby picture from Buddy and his wife. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody (the pair that made Juno) have created one of the most unlikable characters of the year, and yet positioned her to still work as the protagonist (and this is probably the great achievement of this film). They also took a huge risk with the character, in that she does not really evolve or learn anything (unless you read the somewhat ambiguous ending differently, as there is something more there I think). Mavis, despite the awful stuff she does and the bad attitude, is still relatable and ultimately the protagonist because of the deeper sadness she tries to hide and her budding friendship with Matt (a nerd who has a crush on her since high school). What is more shocking is the statement that Matt’s sister Sandra (also a loser in high school) delivers to Mavis – that Mercury (the small town) is full of losers and that everyone is really just envious of Mavis and her lifestyle in the big city. What is shocking about it is what it says about the psyche of many in Middle America. To an extent, we all look at someone else with envy but Mavis is anything but a role model or beacon of hope. And this revelation by Sandra is maybe the saddest aspect of the whole film. Mavis was the popular girl in high school and felt this way (and now leads a seemingly unfulfilling and unhappy life), so what chance does Sandra have at happiness? The scene is one of the best in the film (along with Mavis at Buddy’s baby party) because it works on two levels. Sandra is trying to cheer Mavis up, but there is also a sad sincerity to her words. The narrative overall, however, is a bit on the weak side. While it is eventually revealed, Mavis suddenly going after Buddy, after not talking to him in many years seems too out of the blue. The audience does not really understand why Mavis is suddenly so interested in winning Buddy back and this to an extent hurts the overall narrative because the viewer is not so much connecting with Mavis as they are rejecting her (as she is a fairly awful person, as we are lead to believe). However, Reitman does have enough character moments (and even sympathetic ones) along with the reveal to ultimately make Mavis a full and relatable character for the audience – it just takes almost the full film for this to happen (losing viewers along the way). While Young Adult is a funny character drama, it is a much more scathing commentary on humanity – and both these aspects are good, but neither is great.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Jason Reitman, now four features in, has straddled the line between auteur and very good indie dramedy director. I do not think he is quite an auteur yet, but he continues to show promise. Young Adult is maybe his weakest film to date, but he still shows off his ability to really drive at the heart of his characters and get at the core of what makes them the way they are – making for great characters and performances in his films. Rolfe Kent’s score is fitting, but (like a few other scores this year) it is greatly overshadowed by the fantastic found music – hits from the 90s (things like 3 Non Blondes – What’s Up and Cracker – Low). Eric Steelberg’s cinematography is good. It has an indie style to it, letting the characters exist in a realist space, while focusing the attention of the audience on the performances. Kevin Thompson’s production design also works to make the space that the characters occupy feels realistic. The film is a character piece at its heart, but only really explores two characters deeper than the surface, and thus there are only two full performances and lots of small supporting roles. Of the supporting roles, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser and especially Collette Wolfe (as Sandra) do the best work. Patton Oswalt is very good as Matt. He plays the role both tough and venerable, and matches Charlize Theron’s Mavis perfectly. Theron is also very good as Mavis. It is hard to play an almost completely unlikable lead character and still give her humanity and make her relatable.

Summary & score: Good performances, humor and interesting characters elevate Young Adult above its weak overall narrative. 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment