Newly divorced writer Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) returns to her less than glamorous home-town in Minnesota, aiming to rekindle a romance with her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), who happens to be married with a new born baby.
Apparently people who don’t like their lives always fall asleep on their front in a depressive and dramatically strewn fashion, this repeated detail sums up Young Adult as a rather pedestrian exercise in character led comedy drama. The attitude to a lot of the humour and dialogue is surprisingly dated; for instance a woman in her late thirties turning her nose up at a baby instead of weepily adhering to some biological clock isn’t that funny or a daring and hasn’t been for many years if ever. In fact for a current day indie film there is a general air of stale Sex and the City sub-plot about Young Adult, as if Carrie Bradshaw woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and got sick of her faintly shallow existence as well.
As a character piece the film suffers, Mavis is a mildly dislikeable character and Theron does make some effort to make her appear as such though it still results in a low-impact performance. It is nice to see the actress look more approachable but was still a struggle to wholly except her as that run down. It could’ve been worse and could imagine Cameron Diaz being awkwardly shoe-horned into the role to claw at some instant indie credibility. The film would’ve stood stronger perhaps with someone more adept at conveying uncomfortable layers and mishandled sadness rather than just bitchy mean-girl, which is a lot less funny and a lot more uninteresting, then again this is a painfully underwritten character with a single dimension. Patrick Wilson’s is as safe (if dull) as ever as Buddy; the handsome and well intentioned new dad who can’t see imminent problems (Mavis’s none too subtle advances) until it’s a too late, it’s also a shame that this likable actor seems completely resigned to this interchangeable role. Thankfully Patton Oswalt is a welcome foil come sidekick for Theron’s sneery Mavis, on par in bitterness but far more justified in his. Oswalt’s Matt is actually a far more interesting prospect with a stronger backstory on hand with much further potential for uncomfortable humour and empathy as the nerd seriously beaten by jocks who assumed he was gay which earned him the moniker ‘the hate crime guy’.
During Young Adult it isn’t clear if the audience are supposed to join in mocking Mavis’ insincere bitch-speak or appreciate it ironically amidst the earnest small towns folk. Due to the reputations of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman I was waiting for the moment where the dialogue would spark or at least slightly elevate but that moment never arrived, everything playing out in a decidedly average and uneventful fashion. There have been far better examples of this type of self-serving character; but Mavis simply isn’t a match for Enid from Ghost World or Miles from Sideways and although as arguably dislikeable her portrayal is sorely lacking their charisma or complexity. It can be rewarding to follow a flawed or dysfunctional character but when a protagonist is as flat as Mavis Gray it becomes frustrating and tiresome to sit through their self-important situations. Squandering any initial potential Young Adult is paper thin and needs a serious injection of verbal energy and backbone as without it all we have is a whiny wannabe anti-heroin who never really warrants our interest or laughter.