Some people never grow up. Yet “Young Adult” demonstrates that being young at heart is not always a healthy way to retain the charm of one’s earlier days.
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Mavis (Charlize Theron, “The Road”) is a recent divorcee who lives in Minneapolis (or the “Mini-Apple” as it’s affectionately called). She’s working on the last installment of a “Gossip Girl”-esque series and decides to return to her hometown, a place she claims to have escaped. She tries to rekindle her relationship with her high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson, “The League”) who has since married and recently had a baby girl. While there, Mavis, a former mean girl, strikes up a friendship with Matt (Patton Oswalt, “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”), a former nerd. Through this new friendship and by returning to her hometown, Mavis begins to face her own issues.
Theron fits perfectly into her role. Mavis is dazed and lives in her own world, a teenage fantasy in which she is still the prom queen. However, Theron doesn’t just allow the character to remain a typical mean girl. Theron’s Mavis is conscious of her world falling apart, and that her fantasy and denial of the real world is merely a way for her to survive.
Yet Mavis’s vulnerability doesn’t take away from her being, first and foremost, an unlikeable character. As painful as it is to watch her crumble, to watch her enter into one embarrassing social situation after another, it’s impossible to forget the filthiness of her life. She lives her life in the same kind of rotten, culturally bankrupt state as a character from “The Jersey Shore.” Surrounded by TV shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and her own trashy book plots, Mavis’s own collapse is in some ways no different from those seen on reality TV.
“Young Adult” does not provide the same kind of comic relief that reality television does. It’s an incredibly dark movie, and the funny moments usually result from miscommunications or cringe-inducing situations. Any laughter that comes from these moments is probably just a way of relieving tension. In this sense, the movie does push boundaries.
The film, written by Diablo Cody (“Juno”), doesn’t have the same warmth as “Juno.” Instead, it replaces the snappy dialogue with a new tone, full of a kind of Midwestern bleakness. This bleakness is complemented perfectly by the soundtrack, which is full of angry ’90s music, the songs of Mavis’s past. In the opening scene, she listens to the same song over and over again, believing it holds some special meaning and symbolizes the connection she thinks exists between herself and Buddy.
The movie’s soundtrack acts as a contrast between the past and the present. The songs reek of teen angst, of the things Mavis should let go of but cannot. Mavis still carries the pangs of young adulthood with her, and her anxieties serve as a reminder that growing up is a painful process and one that is never fully complete.