Yes, there’s some irony here: The Juno screenwriter who was both lauded (with an Oscar) and reviled (by those who groaned at the slanguage) for wallowing in high-school hipness decided to skewer people who can’t quite grow up. Give Diablo Cody credit for figuring out how to do it right.
Reunited with Juno director Jason Reitman, she tells the story of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a 37-year-old one-time high-school queen bee who spends her days alternately recovering from post-divorce alcohol binges and ghost-writing installments in a once-popular youth-fiction book series. But she thinks she knows what will make her happy: returning to her suburban Minnesota home town to hook up again with Buddy (Patrick Wilson), her high school boyfriend—never mind that he’s married, and has a new baby.
Theron’s got a tricky job with this character, a bundle of miserable, immature self-absorption. But she’s terrific here, and not just because she’s willing to let herself look physically ratty between efforts to tart herself up for Buddy’s benefit. She manages to make Mavis both pathetic and sympathetic, nailing a heart-stomping moment where Buddy’s wife dedicates to him her band’s performance of the Teenage Fanclub tune Mavis thinks of as “their song.”
More compellingly, Cody almost entirely avoids falling back on catch phrases and bon mots, allowing Reitman to tell crucial chunks of the story visually. Sure, there are some tart one-liners, many given to Patton Oswalt as the disabled ex-classmate who becomes Mavis’ confidant. Young Adult simply isn’t built around them.
If Cody stumbles anywhere, it’s in the voice-over she employs; Mavis’ work-in-progress YA tale is too clumsy a metaphor, in addition to its improbable focus on a popular-girl protagonist. The film proves much smarter and more effective at burrowing into the head of someone who doesn’t know how to deal with the realization that she peaked at 17.
Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson