19 February 2012
Young Adult proves that it doesn’t take copious amounts of make-up to hide Charlize Theron behind a fictional façade. Despite all efforts to make her unattractive, Charlize Theron will still be the most beautiful woman in the room. She has always been the most beautiful woman in the room.
She uglied up and won a few statuettes for Monster. It wasn’t a fantastic film by any means; it was the film where the most beautiful woman in the world was ugly. Hollywood loves when their actresses go hideous for a film and show up on the red carpet a few weeks later looking impossibly beautiful. Nicole Kidman’s performance in The Hours was exactly the same. I don’t want to take anything away these two roles, they were very good (and I will get back to Young Adult in a second). But it is in films where these women don’t hide behind make-up that you can see their real talent. Who can argue against Kidman’s performance in Birth - as difficult a role as any I can think of? Theron’s performance here is also fantastic - further proof that these actresses don’t need to ugly up to make us emotionally invest in their characters and see beyond their physical attributes. This goes the same for both sexes.
Theron’s depressed ghost writer Mavis Gary is incredibly difficult to like or root for, but Theron somehow makes us all cherish her moral triumph in the end. Some of this is due to Diablo Cody’s fantastic script, but most of it is due to Theron. Her performance (ideally) doesn’t need endorsement from any awards, but it is still infuriating that Meryl Streep has been sweeping them all with a mimic. Perhaps the principle reason for the lack of recognition for Young Adult, despite all the critical acclaim, is that it is a comedy.
Shame, because it is not a comedy in the strictest possible sense: it is really not that funny and it doesn’t have a cheese-soaked ending. It is, in fact, a giant ‘fuck you’ to the most asinine of Hollywood clichés. That which says the small town home is always better. Well, no. Home is where you lay her head and Young Adult shows this in a scene that on the surface looks like a text-book ‘lecture scene’ where the character suddenly reaches an epiphany and comes to terms with the fact that she is better off at home. But this is not your typical Hollywood comedy. Before you realize, a sensible and settled character utters the two words that summed up the film perfectly and sent chills down my spine for the subtlety of its delivery: “Fuck Mercury”.
Mavis grew up in Mercury, Minnesota. A ‘Midwest’ town. She now lives in Minneapolis (Mini Apple) as a ghost writer for a very popular teen book series (hence the title). However, her life ain’t that bright. She chugs Diet Coke in the mornings to cure her daily hangover. She suffers from trichotillomania. Her flat is a mess. She is late to hand in the draft for the last book in the series and it doesn’t look like she will have another assignment after that. Her life isn’t enviable in any way (unless you’re into that sort of thing). Things get worse when she receives an email from her high-school boyfriend, Buddy, with an attachment of his newborn baby’s latest photo. Oh no he didn’t. Mavis, in her desperation, is convinced that Buddy is wasting his time in the hicktown from which she couldn’t wait to run away. And that they were meant to be together. So she ups and goes back to Mercury with her little dog in her handbag.
Back in Mercury, Mavis runs into people she hadn’t seen since the days when she was tormenting them for not being in her league. One of them is Patton Oswalt’s Matt, who was the ‘hate crime kid’. That Mavis finally remembers him for that instead of his real name in spite of the fact that their locker rooms were right next to each other tells everything you need to know about their relationship. A relationship that is much closer than anybody (including themselves) knows. Or will ever know. For the sake of not spoiling a fantastic reveal, I will stop there.
Mavis’s attempts at seducing Buddy (Patrick Wilson) are full-on cringeworthy - not since the British “Office” has there been so many moments where I tried to avert my eyes and look elsewhere. This is where the ‘comedy’ lies. Mavis is absolutely pathetic and, some may say, pure evil in her plan to ruin Buddy’s ‘perfect’ life. It is, like I said, very difficult to like her. We are supposed to root for a woman hellbent on seducing a family man away from his infant child and loving wife by showing as much cleavage as she can?
Well, I am. I wanted her to win. Why? Because “Fuck Mercury”.
I respect small towns. I like a lot of small towns. I don’t mind spending an extended period in a small town. But to live your life like the people of Mercury? No. The world is big and you’re likely to fail miserably in your futile attempt at attaining your dreams. But I have more respect for people who go for what they want. Mercury was too small for Mavis. She went to the big city. She failed. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t going to fail in Mercury either. But in all likelihood she wouldn’t have failed in the same scale. Why? Because she wouldn’t have tried. If you don’t try, you don’t fail.
I’m not belittling small towns. So many people have achieved so much living in small towns all their lives. Much more than I have. And probably much more than I will ever achieve despite living in one of the world’s leading metropolises. That is not what I’m saying at all.
What I’m saying is that I respect Mavis more for who she is than what Mercury thinks she should be. Mercury is not ‘perfect’. Her family will eat themselves to a collective heart attack. Buddy’s wife plays in a band - good for her, but they suck. Strip malls suck. Mavis’s old Golf Mark One convertible sucks. The receptionist at the Hampton Inn sucks.
It takes Mavis an embarrassing breakdown, huge amounts of home-distilled ‘Star Wars whiskey’, a ruined Mini, and a post-coital morning talk from the sister of the man she just slept with to come to terms with the fact that Mercury is not the solution to her failures. She just needs to keep on trying.
Young Adult is a fantastic film with a great script by Diablo Cody and perfectly nuanced performances from the whole cast. I highly recommend that you see it.