Friday, December 30, 2011

Film Review: Young Adult

With Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, Jason Reitman, son of Ivan of Ghostbusters fame, has yet to make a movie that has truly impressed me.  On the other hand, with the aforementioned trio of films, fils Reitman has yet to make a movie that has truly disappointed me.  In other words, the director is very good at crafting inoffensive, mediocre pictures that really have no high point nor low point (okay, perhaps Juno had some high points, but they were more due to the acting not the direction or screenwriting) and are only spotlighted by occasional moments of cinematic artistry.  In other other words, Reitman's still quite young oeuvre is, for better or for worse (you take your pick), about as middle-of-the-road as one can get.  

Now along comes the director's fourth feature, Young Adult.  The film stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a disgruntled thirtysomething writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her now happily married high school sweetheart from the perceived horrors of marriage and parenthood.  With this release, my opinion has not been altered in the slightest.  But do not take that as an absolute kicker, for the film does have some things going for it - even if a sense of cinematic wonder is not among these so-called things.  Yes, Theron hands in a rather intriguing performance as the lonely and spiteful former prom queen (if one cares about such accolades, an Oscar nom may be on the horizon), and Patton Oswalt delivers a quite remarkable performance himself as an equally lonely and spiteful, action-figure playing, garage whiskey-making, comic book collecting nerd and former high school nobody who befriends our intrepid heroine (again, Oscar nod could be in the actor/comic/professional nerd's near future), but overall, the film ends up as rather flat and quite predictable.

The film, written by Diablo Cody, whose annoying hyper-speak antics in her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno have been toned down to a more realistic tone here, never takes flight as it should, but again, it never crash lands like it could either.  Simply put, Young Adult is just sort of there.  Never putting forth enough effort to either stumble or shine, it just meanders on to its inevitable, but rightful final act.  The fact that Theron and Oswalt make their characters, neither of which is particularly likable outside of their oft-times brutal honesty (the only characters willing to be honest in the film), is a testament to their individual acting abilities - especially against the backdrop that is Reitman's uninspired direction.  The rest of the cast do not fare as well though, running the gamut from lack of interest (a rather dead-eyed, though possibly purposely so, Patrick Wilson as Theron's long lost, soulless high school sweetheart) to lack of screen time (Mary Beth Hurt and Jill Eikenberry as typically concerned mothers).  In the end though, we may not get the so-desired high points of the Reitman boilerplate standard, but we do get at the very least an interesting look at the perceived notions of adulthood and how they play out as false in almost every level - and no lessons need be learned.

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