She drives a mini-cooper, she wears Hello Kitty t-shirts, she writes serialised young-adult, girl’s high school based fiction for a living – she’s Charlize Theron! And yes, you’ve guessed it, growing up is proving tricky. Simultaneously superficial, city slicker, independent woman and messed up, stunted adolescent, Mavis Gracy is our Young Adult. And her aftertaste is at once bitter, acidic, pitiable, manipulative and just plain confused.
In reality, Mavis (Charlize Theron) late 30s, drinks too much, sleeps late, and stalks the corridors of Middle America – Taco Bell, Staples, and KFC et al for inspiration. Her ear for teen dialogue augmented by snatches caught on the hop for inspiration in “Mall America”, its specimens uttering themselves into ever-decreasing circles of articulacy. Mavis herself is in something of an ever-decreasing circle. She resolves to travel from her Minneapolis apartment back home to Mercury, Minnesota. Here she will re-unite with a high school flame and kick-start that dream life she’s been keeping on hold. The only problem is her long lost beau Matt (Patrick Wilson – nicely playing the small town gormless charm angle) is now married with a newborn daughter. Cue increasingly desperate bids to prise Matt from his rock-chick wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and a healthy dose of reality biting.
Four features in, Jason Reitman has yet to make a bad picture. Here, there are variations on a number of themes already familiar to his work. Teaming up with screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) for the second time, once again Minnesota is the setting for an examination of late-onset maturation with a twist. Once again that recognisable smart-alecry dialogue, the sassy yet vulnerable female protagonist and the good natured, down-home “Main Street” locals are all in place.
Reitman’s last three films (Juno, Up In The Air, and now Young Adult) have all been infused with that genial, affectionate hometown feel. The impact of high school on the lives of ordinary Americans is also touched on here. The overall premise is well executed and taken to a not altogether predictable conclusion.
Performances are pleasingly effortless throughout. Theron’s painful portrayal of her character’s wilful immaturity is undoubtedly raw, if perhaps sometimes a little too self-conscious, while Patton Oswald as the stereotypical loser foil to Theron’s glamour gal is played with a genuinely warm empathy for type. But for all the considered touches, Young Adult runs out of steam before the finish. It’s plot and story just not as strong as its crafted characterisation and setting. Well worth a diversion though.