Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ebert Thoughts ‘14—Young Adult (2011) ****

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

“Young Adult” is the movie directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody that people didn’t watch. The heroine of “Young Adult” is much harder to like than the heroine of “Juno”. In many ways, this makes “Young Adult” a much more keen observation on human behavior than their previous collaboration.

Charlize Theron takes on another not so pretty role, although this time her exterior is. She plays the ghostwriter of a popular teen novel series that has just been canceled. She discovers that her high school boyfriend has just announced the birth of his first child with his wife. Theron’s teenybop novelist gets it in her head that she can go back to her hometown and win her beau back despite the wife and kid.

This woman is seriously damaged. She’s stuck in the high school world she so desperately wanted to escape when she left her hometown as soon as she could. Her job allows her to hold on to that high school world of cliques and thinking the petty thoughts that have their owners believing that their problems are the worst in the world. This desire to win back her old boyfriend beyond any reasonable rationality about the situation is her way of continuing to play the high school games she’s written about her entire adult life. It’s her way of not facing that the end of her series means she’s going to have to start thinking about something else, something more grown up.

Now, Reitman and Cody’s movie is bitingly honest and observant, but its most satisfying element is Patton Oswalt, who plays one of the people from high school that Theron’s character barely noticed at the time. Now, he seems to be the only person willing to give her the time of day and that seems to be mostly for personal amusement. That’s not entirely accurate. He’s an incredibly genuine person and his interest in her is more than just some form of personal revenge for having to watch the popular kids in school play out their dramas while he had to deal with real problems.

He’s “that crippled kid”, because he was beaten nearly to death by a group of jocks because they thought he was gay. He’s not, and when the media coverage that picked up on the story at the time found that out, everybody suddenly forgot about his problems created by the incident. Notice how everyone he went to high school with still thinks he’s gay.

Oswalt is wonderful in the role. He’s a nerd who has hung on to all those things that made him different in high school, yet he has a clearer view of what is happening to Theron than anyone else, especially her. There’s so much truth to his character and Oswalt’s performance of it. What an amazing gift to the attendees at this year’s festival that Oswalt is there to speak about the role and his role in “Big Fan”, a festival entry a few years ago in which he plays a New York Giants fan who refuses to press charges against the team’s quarterback after being beaten up by him in a Manhattan night club, because it would hurt the team. I guess Oswalt has a gift to play men who are beaten in misunderstandings. Surely someone will ask him if there’s something to that.

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