A film about a woman returning to her hometown to win back a childhood sweetheart isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s something of a cliche. But with this in mind, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody team up again and go at it, anyway. The results are, much like the titular character, varying wildly between sweet, cute – near saccharine – to searingly honest and frighteningly real. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a thirtysomething divorcee who is living a charmed life in Minneapolis. After receiving an e-mail about her teenage sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) and his first-born child, she drops everything and returns to her hometown in an attempt to win him back. There’s one catch – he’s happily married.

The script, written by Diablo Cody, isn’t her usual teeth-grinding type, filled with hammered-in pop culture references and so forth. Instead, it’s probably the most realistic and honest script she has ever taken on. Each of the characters, from Charlize Theron’s “psychotic prom-queen bitch” to Patton Oswalt’s doughy nerd, are fleshed out and written with such depth and precision, they feel completely believable. There’s a good chance you’ve met or known a person like Charlize Theron – all designer clothes, low morals and all self-regard. But what makes the character so believable is that it doesn’t just stop there. As the story progresses, it reveals just how deeply unhappy her character is – and why she is this way. The same goes for Patrick Wilson. What initially begins as a two-dimensional character with little depth, it soon becomes apparent that he isn’t all that he’s made to be. The film also delves into why Charlize is so enamored by him, why she’s drawn to him and why she feels she deserves him. As mentioned earlier, this is easily Diablo Cody’s best script. She cleverly eschews her usual pomp and goes for a human story with human dialogue – not the usual Kevin Smith-esque stuff she’s churned out in the past.
Charlize Theron gives one of her best performances in recent years and proves why she’s one of the best actresses working today. It’s a sign of that talent that she can make a character completely unlikable in almost every way and still make you root for them. Theron gives an incredibly human performance throughout the film and has more than enough comedic timing to work with. It also shows her comedic range; here showing her sarcastic and bitter side with generous aplomb. Patrick Wilson, although not given a huge amount to work with, does well and performs admirably. The real scene-stealer is Patton Oswalt, here playing the conscience that Charlize Theron’s character doesn’t have. While it’s not a stretch for him to play an affable nerd, the trick is to do without it being painfully obvious or stereotyped. Oswalt does it impressively well, delivering far above what you’d initially expect of someone that was on MADtv at one point.

Jason Reitman is working with familiar material here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the hands of another director, this film could have been a schmaltzy comedy with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. Instead, it’s an honest appraisal of adolescence unfinished and what it means to be a fully-rounded adult. Young Adult may be that loathsome thing, a dramedy – but it is very much a real film and a real story.

Young Adult is in cinemas now. 


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