Young Adult (2011)

Posted on October 9, 2013



Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a ghost-writer on a series of Young Adult (YA) novels that has just been cancelled. She lives in Minneapolis, where she is having trouble finishing the last book in the series. One day she gets an email from her high school beau, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), announcing the birth of his first child.

Mavis is outraged. Obviously, she and Buddy were meant to be together. In the space of just a few hours, Mavis resolves to return to her hometown of Mercury, MN, and steal Buddy away from his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and his newborn child.

In the process she meets the Hate Crime Kid, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), his sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe), her own parents Hedda and David (Jill Eikenberry and Richard Bekins), and a band called Nipple Confusion.

Short Version

This is a dark movie full of excellent performances.

Longer Version

I’ve established context and conflict, I think. Let’s talk a moment about characters.

Mavis is a sociopath who peaked in high school. She has no real concept of others as people with their own fears and desires. She only understands what she wants.

When she meets Matt, she doesn’t remember that his locker was next to hers the whole four years they were in high school together. She remembers him, eventually, as the guy who was dragged into the woods by some high school students who thought he was gay, and who beat him with baseball bats.

When she calls Buddy, she has no thought for babysitters or wives. She wants to see him now so he should be spontaneous and come see her now.

All her attempts to connect with Buddy focus on her past. He’s nothing but an accessory for her memory. She spends money on clothes, hair, mani-pedis, and building an ideal version of herself, with no regard for what Buddy wants.

Seriously, Mavis: Girl-up, talk about Buddy’s baby, and demonstrate your readiness to be a mother. Don’t leave your Pomeranian in your hotel room, take it with you so Buddy can see how you can care for others.

Oh, wait, you can barely take care of yourself.

She avoids her parents until her mother sees her walking down the street and essentially forces her to come home and see her dad.

Mavis is a bull in a china shop. She goes to the naming ceremony, spills wine on Beth, and screams out the story of how Buddy got her pregnant in high school and then she had a miscarriage.

Mavis has sex with Matt not because she likes him, but because she needs to feel wanted and valued. I’m sure that happens with a lot of people, but it’s another example of Mavis’ pathology.

If you watch this movie, note how Mavis steals other people’s stories and word choices. She’s so far out of touch with herself that she has to steal ideas from others to communicate.

She has two moments that approach self-awareness. One is when she tells her parents that she thinks she’s an alcoholic. The fact that they laugh it off says a lot about why Mavis is the way she is.

The other is when Matt’s sister, Sandra, tells Mavis that everyone in Mercury is fat, stupid, and worthless – right after Mavis sleeps with Matt. Mavis even pours coffee for Sandra before pouring her own. Mavis suddenly seems to realize how much she’s moved on since high school. She’s still a sociopath, though. When Sandra asks to come with Mavis to Minneapolis, Mavis tells her that she’s good right where she is and walks out.

This was Diablo Cody’s third movie script, after Juno and Jennifer’s Body. She makes a lot of brave choices by keeping Mavis relentlessly dark and cruel.

That said, the other characters only exist to demonstrate how crazy Mavis is. Buddy, Beth, Sandra, Hedda, and Dave are not characters. They do not have greatest fears and greatest desires. They are realistic people, but they don’t have their own story arcs.

Matt is the exception. He is Mavis’ Cassandra. After she drunkenly confesses why she came back to Mercury, he never stops warning her against her decision. He builds and paints models, has a job, and brews whiskey in his sister’s garage. He recognizes Mavis for what she is now, and yet wants her because she was the unattainable girl of his high school dreams.

In that sense, Mavis sleeping with him is a kindness. Even though she leaves before he wakes up, he resolves a high school fantasy. After he wakes up, we hope that he can move on with his life.

Jason Reitman directed Thank You for Smoking and Juno before directing this. He’s the son of Ivan Reitman (Animal House, Stripes, Heavy Metal, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Twins, Kindergarten Cop – I could go on). Jason supports the script’s bold choices.

All of the actors are terrific. Charlize Theron is fearless. Patton Oswalt is charming and loses himself in the role. Patrick Wilson is terrific playing a very likeable guy, instead of the cynical jerks he plays in movies like The A-Team.


If you like darkly comedic movies, and you’re prepared for characters who do not learn or grow, you might enjoy Young Adult.

You just need to be prepared for it.

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Posted in: Movies