A few years ago, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody came together to deliver "Juno," just about the most perfect comedy of this young century. Reitman and Cody's second screen collaboration, "Young Adult," isn't quite the American masterpiece that was "Juno." Yet, it's still a funny and insightful character study that further reveals that it's hard to go wrong with this union of storytellers. Those that felt "Juno" was too hip and cool, which it wasn't at all, will likely admire "Young Adult" for its darker tone and more unsympathetic lead.
"Juno" was about an immensely lovable girl and her journey to adulthood. "Young Adult," on the other hand, centers on a self-centered, immature woman dwelling on the past. Her name is Mavis, a writer in her late 30's played by Charlize Theron. When Mavis isn't blankly staring at her computer screen, she's lying around her sty of an apartment, watching trash TV. One day she receives an email from Buddy, her high school boyfriend played by Patrick Wilson, saying that he has just had a baby with his beloved wife. Longing for the days when she was the most popular girl in school, Mavis packs up her dog and travels back to her hometown of Minnesota. Along the way she plans on breaking up Buddy's marriage so she can claim him as her own.
Theron is as good as she's ever been as Mavis, a character a part of us wants to despise, but somehow kind of like. In a way she's similar to Cameron Diaz's selfish character in "Bad Teacher." Mavis is a much more down-to-earth and believable human being though. Even as she throws herself at the happily married Buddy, we can't help but take pity on the pathetic Mavis. She's a train wreck of a person who keeps digging herself deeper and deeper into anguish until she finally explodes in an exquisitely uncomfortable scene towards the end. Mavis is not somebody who will likely ever find true happiness, nor does she really deserve to. Her desire to reclaim what she possessed in high school speaks true to many former Queen B's though.
Another great performance comes from Patton Oswalt as Matt, a victim of a hate crime who has been left crippled. Although their lockers were next to each other during high school, Mavis and Matt shared little to no contact. Now that they're older and in similar ruts though, the geek may stand a chance at scoring with the knockout.
Oswalt has a unique dramatic and comedic gift, mixing depth with dead-on line readings. Here he is perfectly cast as Mavis' voice of reason and maybe the closest thing she will ever have to a thoughtful relationship. Most men of Oswalt's stature struggle to evolve beyond playing the sloppy best friend. But between "Young Adult" and his leading roles in "Big Fan" and "Ratatouille," he has truly emerged as an actor that can carry a movie.
"Young Adult" is given many chances to go down the conventional road and become another lamebrain romantic comedy like "The Ugly Truth" or "27 Dresses." But for the most part the film avoids all clichés and never betrays its characters. I'm not even sure if the film ends on a happy note, a tragic note, or a shallow note. In any case, the conclusion is completely true to the character of Mavis. For that I have nothing less than admiration toward the filmmakers.
• Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact writer: (480) 898-7913 or email@example.com