"Young Adult," the new film starring Charlize Theron as a profoundly unlikable mean girl, is nevertheless an entertaining black comedy. It's playing at several Seattle theaters.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a grown-up mean girl, and she’s still mean — to her dog, to babies and to pretty much everyone she encounters. In Jason Reitman’s wickedly entertaining black comedy “Young Adult,” Mavis has a specific target for her snideness: Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), the wife of Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who was Mavis’ boyfriend back in high school, roughly two decades ago. Learning to her horror that Buddy and Beth have had a child, Mavis packs up her tiny dog, her hair extensions, and her collection of designer sweatpants and leaves her messy Minneapolis condo for a trip back to her hometown — Mercury, Minn., where she was once prom queen. Her mission: to win handsome Buddy back, because she can. Or can she?
Written by Diablo Cody (“Juno”), and containing more than its share of so-nasty-they’re- funny one-liners, “Young Adult” won’t appeal to those who want their movie characters to be likable. Mavis, played with whiny, pouty languor by Theron, is a mess and doesn’t care. She drinks too much, gorges on junk food, ignores her work (she’s a ghostwriter for a failing series of young-adult novels) and seems to have a tenuous relationship with reality. “Mavis, I’m a married man,” says Buddy, who’s shown not one iota of interest in her. “I know,” she says, eyes wide. “We can beat this thing together.”
It’s a sly, skillful performance by Theron, who resists any attempt to sweeten Mavis (upon seeing a hobby table, she casually picks up a bottle of Elmer’s Glue to sniff), and who fills her role with bits of funny physical comedy. (Note, for example, how Mavis almost subconsciously adjusts her cleavage, like she’s rearranging something on a shelf.)
And while Wilson as Buddy is disappointingly bland, two other performances in the film are first-rate: Patton Oswalt, as Mavis’ now-disabled former lockermate (“You’re the hate-crime guy!” she says, in recognition) and, currently, her only friend; and Reaser, as Beth, a woman so nice she could easily have been made cloying. Beth plays in a rock band called Nipple Confusion with a few of her fellow moms — all of whom remember Mavis from high school, and hate her. The wonderfully uncool fun she has playing drums in a neighborhood sports bar is delicious. Her smile is enormous; this is a woman who, unlike Mavis, loves her life.
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“Young Adult” feels a little slight (particularly compared to Reitman’s last film, “Up in the Air”); not much happens, and not much gets resolved. But it’s enjoyable as a character study, of a character most of us wouldn’t want to meet.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org