(2011) director Jason Reitman
viewed: 12/24/2011 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA
Charlize Theron plays an immensely shallow, self-absorbed, misanthropic woman in a life crisis in Young Adult, the new film from the director/writer team that brought us Juno (2007), Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. She’s not a “young adult” anymore at 37, though she writes (ghost-writes) for them, a series of books about high school. Her crisis is triggered by hearing that her small town high school beau, played by Patrick Wilson, has just fathered a child, and she gets it in her mind that she must “rescue” him by rekindling their flame and whisking him away from his married, parental life.
There are aspects of this that have resonance and are funny. She details her logic to Patton Oswalt, a local shlub who was brutally beaten in high school in a misguided hate crime, by telling him that over time people accept that marriages break down and that people hook up with old flames. She just wants to accelerate the process. Her character is so self-deluded that she cannot see any aspect of reality. Her ex is not unhappy; she is.
Her one moment of cognizance, telling her parents that she thinks she might be an alcoholic, is casually dismissed in bland denial.
The thing about the movie is that it’s a lot less funny than you might hope for or expect. Perhaps that is “dramedy” for you. Theron’s character is virtually soulless, a wreck with little redeeming quality. She is beautiful. She’s got that going for her. But she’s loathsome. And in the end it’s a pretty depressing, though not unrealistic, picture.
One thing that really struck me was the virtual “anti-product placement” in the film. Small town Minnesota (Anywheresville, USA) is a landscape of mini-malls and fast food joints. One corporate hotel chain after another. And Theron’s character, Mavis Gray, is shown gobbling McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell, Diet Coke ad nauseum (this may be a supermodel-pretty Hollywood star “enjoying” these products but the character she plays is a monster). The food and lifestyle very much represent Mavis’s hollow junk life. She also consumes television garbage (reality television) non-stop, subsisting entirely on almost every form of corporate junk food. She has no soul. She’s a horrible person.
Even the Hampton Inn, which her character stays at, gets a rather inglorious depiction in the receptionist who is clearly going through the motions.
For Reitman, it’s an interesting follow-up to his 2009 film Up in the Air, which depicted a middle America in the throes of a corporate crisis. Corporate America doesn’t care about people. It’s ready to downsize them, feed them garbage, take their money. Middle America is not a pretty place.
Mavis, though, is so self-centered and unlikable that it’s hard to know whether to feel for her or not. She’s probably more unsympathetic than Theron’s portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
For me, I guess I’m still contemplating it. Oswalt is very good (he’s got the most interesting character to play). And I guess that I’m coming around to Jason Reitman. Gotta love the way he bitch-slapped his corporate sponsors.