The second collaboration between Juno director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody is an unsurprisingly pop culture-filled dark comedy that isn’t actually all that bad. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, the kind of character that a film student would create for a scriptwriting course: an alcoholic 37-year-old single slob (complete with sweatpants, a Nintendo Wii, and a fluffy little dog who is barely cared for) who works as a ghost author on a Sweet Valley High-like series of young adult novels while yearning for her long-gone days as a popular high school student. The cruel Mavis returns to her hometown in Minnesota where she hopes to steal away her childhood sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) from his wife and newborn child, but instead learns a valuable lesson about how life is what you make of it. In between, she gets into a countless number of uncomfortable situations, has several public meltdowns, and strikes an awkward friendship with a former classmate turned crippled custom action figure sculptor (the likable Patton Oswalt). Theron has fun with her role, which is characterized by a rude frankness that is often legitimately humorous despite the one-dimensionality of her character (while Mavis may be a fleshed out character plot-wise, her being is little more than your typical uncaring bitch). The life lessons that are ultimately acquired aren’t complete cop-outs as Cody is at least smart enough to avoid any drastic character arcs, but the ongoing voice over narration featuring excerpts from Mavis’ in progress novel is a trite device that fails in its intentions.
Reitman is a very capable director who accurately captures the joy and desolation of bleak, mid-Western suburbia. Nostalgia for the 90s is embraced as it has been in so many other films this year (Bridesmaids, Something Borrowed) and again it falls flat unless you automatically find cassette tapes and 4 Non Blondes humorous. Young Adult is a much more mature outing than the aforementioned Juno, but, like it’s lead, the duo have a long way to go.
Young Adult opens in Philly-area theaters today.