Young Adult inhabits that annoying sub-genre of character study films, only they choose to study characters that are varying levels of bland, boring or reprehensible and expect that we the audience will cheer, gasp or at least remain fascinated as they go through their bland, boring or reprehensible existence.
In this case the supposed fascination is that the lead character acts exactly like a guy. That ‘guy’ is Mavis (Charlize Theron), a troubled young woman now in her second decade removed from her small town beginnings after landing a plush job as a fiction writer in the ‘big city’ of Minneapolis. Only as the film opens it is more accurate to say that Mavis is ‘batching’, dramatically behind in her work, wallowing in self pity and spending her evenings drinking and one night standing.
Desperate to shake free from her malaise and wanting to feel superior to someone – anyone – Mavis takes a group email as a cosmic sign, whacks on some makeup and a little black dress and heads to her childhood home to show the hicks still there just how far she has come.
With precious little advance planning Mavis decides that Phase 1 should involve reclaiming her High School sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson), only Buddy is now happily married with a newborn baby at home, something Mavis actually was well aware of already.
But that squishy pink drooling fact alone is apparently no impediment to the irrational Mavis, who takes every full stop as a minor setback and every ‘No’ as a ‘Soon’… Actually didn’t I tell you she was just like a guy?
What Mavis didn’t count on was Matt (Patton Oswalt), another former classmate, only the ‘regular’ kind, meaning he wasn’t in her circle then and Mavis sure as hell feels he has no right to be anywhere near her circumference now, given that he is overweight, still unpopular and sports a limp from a terrifying act of schoolyard bullying taken beyond the extreme.
Mavis openly resents Matt and only converses with him in her downtime between assaults on Buddy while he is ‘busy playing Dad’. But because Buddy isn’t that welcoming of Mavis’s advances this means she ends up spending quite a large proportion of her time drinking Matt’s bootleg booze from his garage still and revisiting the glory days, or propped at the bar in the saloon where Matt happens to work.
We the audience are expected to be riveted to her failings and insecurities, and to dread whatever reaction that Buddy has to her increasingly bold and irrational decisions. I just felt sorry for Matt, who openly pines for Mavis despite knowing full well what a flawed individual she is, and even while she discusses every detail of her plan for Buddy with him.
To me this was a better film than all of those I mentioned above, but that hardly makes it necessary viewing. Theron is perfectly adequate as Mavis, a woman with that go far deeper than she wants to acknowledge, Oswalt is fine as the pathetic Matt (not pathetic in an inferior way), willing to overlook everything for that one shot. But in truth neither performance was world beating or Oscar worthy.
Neither is the film, which tells a dull story well, but that doesn’t make it any less a dull and pointless story.
Two thirds into the film I was thoroughly bored and ready for the film to end and end quickly, however the only partially redeeming feature was in fact the ending, which elevated the film a full point in the final score.
Even that still wasn’t enough to make this more than just a boring movie though.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. Well made, well acted and frankly well dull. A characterless character study with an unpleasant subject.