Young Adult

Young Adult

2011, R, 94 min. Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 16, 2011

Thirty-seven-year-old Mavis Gary (Theron) is a beautiful, unhappy, and unlikable narcissist. Add delusional, rude, and alcoholic to the list. She’s not the kind of person we generally want to spend time with in the movies or in real life. However, the attributes that make Mavis bad company are the very reasons you’ll want to catch her in Young Adult: Prickliness like this in a lead character is a rare thing in a movie – especially a Hollywood comedy. Mavis’ uncommon abrasiveness and the film’s avoidance of a tidy (read: happy) resolution make Young Adult one of the freshest and most original movies around right now, though caveat emptor: This may not be enough to make it likable.

Rule-breakers Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, director and screenwriter respectively, have teamed up again following the splash they made with Juno in 2007. Young Adult is a completely different film than Juno. It has none of Juno’s hipster patois or youthful sass and few of the implicit messages found in Reitman’s other films, Up in the Air and Thank You for Smoking. Yet Young Adult might be seen as a window into another idiosyncratic young woman’s life, set 20 years down the road from Juno. Mavis is a pseudonymous author of a young-adult book series that is about to fold. She lives in a Minneapolis high rise, having escaped her hometown of Mercury, Minn., where she was the prettiest girl in the high school but also its reigning bitch goddess. In her mind, she is a famous author in the big city whose life would be the envy of anyone from her hick town. But as we observe Mavis in her condo, the thin veneer of her self-deception begins to crack. Soon she is off on what is clearly a fool’s mission to return to Mercury and reignite things with her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Wilson), who has just sent her an announcement about the arrival of his first baby.

Mavis pounces on Mercury as though she were from Mars. Her attempts to seduce Buddy flounder, though she remains oblivious; her admission to her parents that she suspects she is an alcoholic is met by a change of subject; and her callous exploitation of Matt Fruehauf (Oswalt) – who is also unable to move beyond high school, but for totally different reasons than Mavis – can be harsh to watch. Still, the film maintains a comic edge that allows us to see the humor in the various situations without ever making fun of the characters. Theron and Oswalt both deliver brilliant performances, allowing us to see past their outer appearances and into their inner depths. The film’s attention to the casual details of everyday life also allows the movie to resonate widely. Young Adult may not take things as far as one might like, but its character portraits are indelible.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Jason Reitman
Gary Hart Biopic <i>The Front Runner</i> to Close Austin Film Festival
AFF Announces Second Wave
New films by Yorgos Lanthimos, Asghar Farhadi added to fest

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 12, 2018

Jason Reitman (Not) Versus the Internet
Jason Reitman (Not) Versus the Internet
Men, Women & Children director on the use and abuse of tech

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 17, 2014

More Jason Reitman Films
Ghostbusters: Afterlife
The next generation of spook-scarers makes this resurrection fun

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 19, 2021

The Front Runner
Jason Reitman revisits a long-ago time when a sex scandal could ruin a candidate's shot at the presidency

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 21, 2018

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Last One Down the Mountain: Belated Thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival
Last One Down the Mountain: Belated Thoughts on the Sundance Film Festival
Even virtually, the 2024 fest felt revitalized

Feb. 21, 2024

Joy Ride
Raunchy road trip goes all the way to China for filthy fun

July 7, 2023


Young Adult, Jason Reitman, Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle