I love Charlize Theron. From the doe-eyed innocent wife in “Devil’s Advocate” (1997) to her turn as serial killer Ailene Wuornos in “Monster” (2003) to the struggling single mother/working class gal in “North Country” (2005), Theron is reliable for consistent, searing performances. That’s one reason that I chose to review “Young Adult.” (2011). A second reason is that I also come from a small town (mine is in Michigan), and chose to review this movie as an homage to that type of upbringing. Like the main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), I left small-town life for urban dwelling and its advantages and many conveniences, but that is really where most of the similarities end.
The movie begins with a female crying as a voice over to a dreary urban scene with bridges. The crying is not that of the main character, who is sleeping while some reality television show plays in the background as white noise. Gary receives a picture of a newborn in her email – the significance is that the newborn belongs to her ex-boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). She prints the picture and stares at it for a long time, and it is this picture that spurs Gray’s quest to return to her tiny hometown and seek out her old boyfriend in an attempt to flex her former Small Town Super Powers.
Gary is a writer, who writes a fictional “young adult” novel loosely based upon her life as the movie opens. She represents the pretty, once popular, small-town princess who escapes from small-town life and currently lives in a high-rise apartment in the city and has a Pomeranian named “Dolce.” Gray is lured back to that small town, Mercury, Minnesota, when urban life in her late 30s is not all that it is supposed to be: in fact, she’s recovering from a failed marriage, is a self described “alcoholic” and suffers from trichotillomania, which is a disease in which one pulls out their hair under stress. She returns to the life of barns and hay bales and small-town gossip momentarily to try to find out where her life went wrong and/or what is missing. While her initial quest seems to get back with her old boyfriend, Slade, even though he is married with a newborn, the importance of her return is really more than that.
Upon return to that small town, Gary bumps into a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswald), in a bar. Freehauf and Gary had formerly only brushed shoulders when they shared locker space in high school. They did not run in the same social circles. Gary remembers Freehauf as the victim of a hate crime when some football players beat up Freehauf mercilessly because they thought he was gay. The violence has rendered him forever on crutches and suffering, and later it is subtly suggested that she may have originated the idea of his homosexuality by calling him a “theater fag” to others.
If you’re looking for sentimentality or regret from Gary, for this act or any others, you will be woefully denied!
Somehow, Freehauf becomes Gary’s confidante and social partner. Things have really changed in the nearly twenty years that they have been out of high school. They stalk Slade outside his home late at night, eating bon bons and drinking.
Gary is the text book definition of a narcissist – one who thinks that her ex-boyfriend’s new wife is merely his “rebound” person from her. Everything – past, present and future – revolves around her. She reminds a sales lady at the local mall how good she still looks, and in the bookstore attempts to sign all the books she ghost wrote, currently on the clearance rack, but is thwarted by the sales boy who says they can’t return them to the publisher if they are signed. Clearly, her Super Powers have waned. In one scene, she is called “psychotic prom queen bitch” by friends of Slade’s wife. While writing, she has her fictional character, Kendall, proclaim, “beauty and popularity did not inspire much loyalty.”
The oddest scene involves Gary and Freehauf jealousy over the popularity of Gary’s “crippled” cousin, Mike. It’s clear that they are both demented.
We don’t end up liking Gary during the movie or even at the end. I was fine with that. This was not a journey where we see an individual go through immense spiritual growth or change. We are merely introduced to a narcissist’s mind and their subsequent pain. We see the way a narcissist views life, including how all the players in their life are merely props for their own use and experience. It was a slice-o-narcissist life. Nothing more. Engaging nonetheless.
Written by Diablo Cody of “Juno” (2007) fame and directed by “Juno” director, Jason Reitman. Recommended.
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