The latest from Diablo (Juno) Cody is a slice of obsession in which beautiful but damaged Charlize Theron returns to her home town from the big city with the express intention of winning back her high school sweetheart.
The issue, laid bare from the outset, is that Mavis (Theron) is a boozed-up, self-harming mess of a human being. And the boyfriend? He’s now happily married with a new baby – news of which sends Mavis into a tailspin that involves a road trip into rose-tinted nostalgia that she knows is skewed and bent out of shape.
Mavis arrives in Mercury, Minnesota, and immediately re-connects with Matt, a chubby geek from years back who, she recalls with glee, was the victim of a hate crime. Outed by the football jocks on the school team he was kidnapped, beaten and crippled in an attack that has scarred him mentally as well as physically. The end result: a permanent limp. And he wasn’t gay.
Matt becomes Mavis’s conscience. As her plan unfolds it is Matt who looks askance at Mavis and what she has become. A famous writer of fiction for young adults, she is in fact living in a bubble of self-delusion as her various meetings with bemused ex Buddy (Patrick Wilson) bear out.
And as her surprised parents welcome her home, Mavis builds to an explosive confrontation that will define her new life and her bizarre trip into her past.
Young Adult drips with the sort of dialogue that made Juno such a joy. It’s also helmed by the same director, Jason Reitman. And one can’t help but feel that Mavis is an extension of some of the facets within Cody’s character – that she is delving deep into the darkest corners of her soul to create this acid-tongued bitch who has surfed through life on good looks and sex appeal. Yet this particular homecoming is not to the bosom of a loving family. Almost everyone has a negative memory of Mavis, and this ravaged young woman (“I think I’m an alcoholic” she half confesses to her parents, who laugh) is in desperate need of some TLC.
The principal fault in Young Adult is that Mavis never genuinely accepts that her behaviour is aberrant. She’s on a mission – she’s in the zone. And the assumption is that having always got what she wanted, she’ll stop at nothing in her quest now.
Theron is tremendously powerful as the deluded drunk and enjoys terrific chemistry with Patton Oswalt as Matt. Wilson and Elizabeth Reaser, as his unsuspecting wife, join the rest of the cast in standing on the sidelines to witness Theron’s rollercoaster express ride through a half-remembered youth. It’s a car crash, and one that resonates.