[Screen It]


(2011) (Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt) (R)

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Drama: A thirty-something divorced ghostwriter returns to her hometown hoping to steal her ex back from his wife who's just had a baby.
Mavis Gary (CHARLIZE THERON) is a 37-year-old ghostwriter for a popular young adult novel series. She lives in Minneapolis and would seem to have it all, but her only companion -- beyond various forms of alcohol and one-night stands -- is her dog. Her real glory days were back in high school when she was with her boyfriend Buddy Slade (PATRICK WILSON). But he and his wife Beth (ELIZABETH REASER) have just had their first baby, and this unsettles Mavis who thinks she should be in Beth's place.

Accordingly, she packs up her dog and returns to Mercury, Minnesota with the unabashed plan to steal back Buddy and make him hers. That doesn't go unnoticed by her former classmate, Matt Freehauf (PATTON OSWALT), who still bears a limp from being attacked decades earlier in high school. Although he doesn't approve of her actions and despite her previously paying him no attention back in their teenage years, the two become something of unlikely friends. From that point on, she continues on her quest until things eventually come to a head.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
"Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight, and I'm going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back, trying to recapture, a little of the glory of...
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but, boring stories of...glory days"

Bruce Springsteen "Glory Days"

"So let it rock, let it roll
Let the bible belt, come and save my soul
Hold on to sixteen as long as you can
Change is coming round real soon make us woman and men

Oh yeah, life goes on
Long after the thrill of living is gone
Oh yeah - they says - life goes on
Long after the thrill of living is gone"

John Mellencamp "Jack and Diane"

While watching the travails of the main character in "Young Adult," I kept half-imagining that those lyrics might just start dropping their symbolism into the proceedings via the soundtrack at any moment. Then again, that clearly would have been too obvious. After all, the protagonist (who's actually more antagonistic than someone you might consider actually rooting for), is long past her prime glory days of high school.

Yet, director Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air," "Juno") doesn't miss the chance to point out the living in the past mindset by having Charlize Theron's character listen to a cassette tape in her car (!) of a song that reminds her of the good times she had back in high school with her boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). She does this because she's just received notice that he and his wife (Elizabeth Reaser) have had their first baby, and that's rattled her. She wonders why that couldn't have been her and -- more notably -- why it still couldn't be her in that role.

Accordingly -- and as concocted by screenwriter Diablo Cody who reportedly read of something like this happening in the real world and was inspired to fictionalize her own version -- Theron's 37-year-old character decides to leave her Minneapolis apartment, head back to her small hometown, and steal her ex away from his life of wedded and new parental bliss.

That's the premise of this not exactly entertaining black comedy that certainly isn't the second coming of "Peter Pan" (and the tale of a kid who refused to grow up), but obviously features a raging case of arrested development. The title not only refers to the mindset of the typical high school student (or at least one who still basks in memories of those "glory days"), but also the sort of work the protagonist engages in. She ghost-writes "young adult" novels for kids in that awkward transition stage between teen and adult, all of which is symbolically appropriate since she's still stuck there.

To make matters worse for her, that series is now being canceled due to the waning of its popularity, mirroring her own life, not only in now being fairly far removed from high school, but also having experienced a failed marriage. None of that is lost on her former classmate (deliciously played by Patton Oswalt) who certainly knew of her back in the day, although such awareness wasn't reciprocated despite their lockers being adjacent.

Those two become drinking buddies, with him pointing out the foolishness of her marriage-wrecking, husband stealing plan, all while not recognizing he's still emotionally crippled by a physical attack he endured back in high school at the hands of jocks who beat him up and permanently injured his leg for thinking he was gay. Even Mavis' parents -- who she tries to avoid -- still live in the past, to an extent, by having photos of her wedding still hanging on the wall despite the subsequent divorce.

The one person who's moved on is new papa Buddy, although he certainly doesn't seem to mind having his pretty ex back in town obviously sexing it up to get his attention. Nor does his wife, which seems odd at first until a third act explanation for her lackadaisical attitude toward this behavior is finally revealed (until then, it started serving as a distraction for yours truly).

All of that might sound like a fairly depressing way to spend 90-some minutes in a dark theater. Then again, it could lead itself to be a quite wicked satire on those damaged in one way or another by high school life and all of its social mores trappings, especially considering the writing that Cody displayed back in "Juno."

That's mostly neutered here, as is much (but not all) of the black comedy. The result is a fairly inert tale that doesn't really end up going anywhere once the premise has been established. But it is a good character study of such damaged people, and Theron takes the decidedly unglamorous role and gets a decent amount of mileage out of it.

The actress (and her makeup people) don't go anywhere near de-glamming her to the previous "Monster" status, but she convincingly plays a woman who's barely holding on to the last vestiges of her younger beauty and doesn't know how to evolve into middle-aged attractiveness, of either the outer or inner varieties.

The fact that her plan reeks of nothing but selfishness sans any delicious cinematic qualities means few, if any, will root for her success, all of which will make the film off-putting to one degree or another to most viewers. Thankfully (I guess), Reitman and Cody don't do the usual cop out and give Mavis some sort of deus ex machina redemption. She remains, or so it will seem, stuck in that arrested development, complete with the continued ability -- as evidenced at the end -- to still put down those she sees below her now faux social status.

While I liked Theron and Patton in their parts, and was entertained by little bits and moments scattered here and there, as an overall effort I felt this comes in below the standards the filmmaker set with "Juno" and certainly "Up in the Air." "Young Adult" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 12, 2011 / Posted December 16, 2011

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