Thursday, March 22, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Young Adult (2011) ***½

R, 94 min.
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe

Screenwriter Diablo Cody seems to have a knack for telling it how it is. Whether she’s using the hyper-elevated hipster speech that fueled the charm behind “Juno”, or if she’s being a little more down to Earth with her sad character study of a high school witch returning to her hometown years later to reclaim the man who once was hers in “Young Adult”, Cody never strays from the hard facts about people.

The primary hard fact in “Young Adult” is that people—or at least certain people—never really change. The young adult author portrayed by Charlize Theron in Jason Reitman’s latest film is the exact same person she was in high school. Her occupation even involves preserving the attitudes and cliques in which she toiled in high school. She wakes each morning with a hangover and does little worthwhile with her time, and that emptiness eats at her until she learns of her former flame’s new baby. She decides this is a sign that she needs to win him back. Forget the fact that he’s happily married. You can’t let details drag you down.

At the other end of the spectrum is the character played by comedian Patton Oswalt. He was a loser in high school, and hasn’t risen far since then. He lives with his sister and rearranges action figures into new action figures. But, he seems more content in what he has than Theron. They strike up an odd friendship in her pursuit to ruin a man’s life. Yet they also fit so well, because they’ve let their youth define their adult lives to such an extreme degree.

“Young Adult” isn’t the crowd pleaser that “Juno” was. It doesn’t have the snappy dialogue from its main character that we all wish we had the cleverness to perform ourselves. Instead its protagonist’s words and actions have the hollow sound of failure and psychosis behind them. Everything she does makes you want to tell her, “No, no. Don’t do that. Bad idea.” But, just like in life, telling someone they can’t do something they’ve convinced themselves is an obvious choice is a futile endeavor. 

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