Juno is a real Marmite film: you either love it or hate it. I think it’s going to be a similar case with Young Adult. Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman re-team to tell a tale of a divorced writer of young adult fiction (Charlize Theron) who comes back to her home town in Minnesota with the express intention of winning back her old high-school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Only problem is, Buddy is happily married and his wife has just had a baby… but that’s not going to stop Mavis.
There’s no two ways about it: Mavis Gary is a total bitch. An arrested adolescent pouting and flouncing her way through life, with a self-absorbed and utterly selfish world view which (quite frankly) borders on the sociopathic at times. Despite a last-ditch attempt to soften the jagged edges with a big reveal of some painful secrets, Mavis remains fundamentally unlikeable throughout. So it’s kudos to Charlize Theron who takes the role of Mavis with both hands and inhabits it fully. It is the script that decides to humanise Mavis, not Theron. Lesser actors may try and find a way to mitigate or tone down Mavis’ utterly demented scheming. But not Theron. It’s a performance full of bile and fire and one of the most impressive I’ve seen on film so far this year.
Also great is Patton Oswalt (probably best known for voicing Remy the rat in Ratatouille) as a crippled former classmate of Mavis. A self-confessed ‘fat geek’ who was attacked by a bunch of jocks in high school and left with shattered legs (all for being gay, which he isn’t), he bizarrely ends up as confidante and moral compass for Mavis. It’s a wonderfully observed turn and he and Theron work well together. Patrick Wilson is a little bland but nonetheless likeable as the object of Mavis’ affection and delivers a devastating put-down towards the end during the big showdown scene. Elizabeth Reaser is similarly good as Buddy’s wife Beth.
I had several issues with Juno, mostly surrounding the script. I felt it was trying very hard to be ‘cool’ and ‘quirky’ which ended up being incredibly grating after a while. So it’s good to see that the catchphrasy nature of Juno isn’t present in Young Adult. It’s a much more mature script by Diablo Cody (ironic, considering Mavis arguably acts more like a teenager than Juno McGuff did) and it’s nice to see the excesses toned down.
The humour is a little dark in places and Mavis’ truly selfish behaviour may not appeal to everyone, but there are stellar turns from Theron and Oswalt and a rocking soundtrack (from Teenage Fanclub and 4 Non Blondes amongst others).
Rating: 3 out of 5