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Capone reviews the exceptional YOUNG ADULT, from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody!!! Sound like JUNO? It isn't.

Published at: Nov. 4, 2011, 12:33 p.m. CST

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

For many, YOUNG ADULT is going to be an exercise in defying expectations. You'd be surprised how many people like or dislike a film based on their preconceived ideas of what it is they're walking into, based on such things as trailers, word of mouth, reviews, etc. If a movie isn't "what they expected," they somehow think that's the basis for judging its worth. And often they punish a film in their minds because it didn't live up to some internal standard that has little to do with its actual entertainment value. Here's an idea: walk into a movie with zero expectations; walk in open minded, able to let the film wash over you and, dare I say, surprise you in the process. It's a great thing, trust me.

Case in point, we have YOUNG ADULT, which has a pedigree that would make it very easy to have certain expectations about the kind of film it is. It comes from the writer (the Oscar-winning Diablo Cody) and director (Jason Reitman) of JUNO, so you might expect a light-hearted comedy with snappy dialogue and a few moments of seriousness to drive home its deeper messages. Not only would you be 1000 percent wrong, but you'd be selling YOUNG ADULT seriously short on just about every level. Anchored by a pair of performances that are among the year's best, surprisingly sophisticated dialogue, and a subject matter that is unsettling, with touches of humor, this movie achieves moments and takes us on such a nakedly personal journey that it feels almost death defying for its characters.

Perhaps to directly address the idea of a female writer who seems slightly fixated on the lives of teenagers, Cody forgoes dialogue that sounds like her attempting to invent catch phrases and makes her lead character Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) a writer of fiction for young adults, living in the big city (well, Minneapolis). But her publisher has decided that the successful series she's been working on for years should come to an end and has charged Mavis with writing her final installment. Somehow, this triggers her desire to return to her hometown in northern Minnesota and try to recapture a time in her life when she believes she was at her best--her high school years when she was dating a handsome young man named Buddy Slade.

If memory serves, our first image of Mavis is lying face down in bed in her small, messy apartment. It's almost impossible to imagine Theron as unattractive (but if you've seen MONSTER, you know she can walk that line when she wants to), but seeing her wake up after a night of hard drinking is not a pretty sight. What's fascinating is watching her get ready for a night out and going on a date she couldn't give two shits about. The hair, makeup and clothes belong to a woman who has grown up being the prettiest, most desired girl most of her life, and she's clearly grown bored of how easy men are to figure out and impress. Theron gets to be more showy later in the film, but in these early scenes, we begin to realize that she's about to unveil a character the likes of which she has never played, and that opens up a world of possibilities.

Her trip to her hometown is actually triggered by a mass email from Buddy announcing the birth of his new child. She interprets the email as a cry for help aimed directly at her. We know early on that Mavis is a bit delusional, but that doesn't stop her from throwing clothes in a suitcase and heading home for the first time since high school. When in town, she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who went to high school with Mavis, but she doesn't really remember him until she recalls that he was the victim of a misdirected hate crime (jocks beat him up because they thought he was gay and permanently damaged his leg so that he walks with a cane).

Because the characters is played by Oswalt, we presume he'll be the film's comic relief, and he certainly does provide some insight into Mavis' plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife. But what Oswalt accomplishes here as an actor has only been tapped on rare occasions in the past, in particular his revelatory work in BIG FAN two years ago. But as the film goes on, the depth to which that beating changed the course of Matt's life is revealed and provides some of the film's most devastating scenes. I'm not big on talking about awards in my reviews, but I would love to see Oswalt get an Oscar nomination for this role. Late in the film when Theron is questioning whether there is anything about her to love, Oswalt delivers a line that just crushed me. But credit also goes to Cody, who perfectly captures in a single sentence the curious relationship between the pretty, popular girls and the boys who will forever admire them but never attempt to win their hearts.

A great deal of the mid-section of YOUNG ADULT focuses on Mavis' embarrassing attempt to win back Buddy, played as an adult by Patrick Wilson (Little Children, Watchmen). Twilight's Elizabeth Reaser is Buddy's wife, Beth, who seems to almost take pity on Mavis' plight, while her friends (many of which were also high school acquaintances) are the ones who are especially nasty to Mavis for what she's trying to do. During this entire period, Mavis is furiously plugging away at her book, which seems to incorporate into its plot a lot of what is happening to her right now. Cody cleverly turns these events into a messy high school reunion, which in turn fuels Mavis' creative juices, and makes it clear that the reason Mavis is so good at writing for teens is that she never really stopped being one.

What strikes you about Theron's portrayal of Mavis is that she manages to make us care and root for a character who is more often than not a deplorable human being. Without giving too much away, what's even more shocking about YOUNG ADULT is that when the film is done, we're pretty much convinced that Mavis has not experienced a big, life-altering change. She certainly more aware of her shortcomings, but hasn't really made any progress toward being a better person. That's a gutsy move, but not unlike the ending of Reitman's last film, UP IN THE AIR, with George Clooney staring at that departure/arrival board with a clearer understanding of why he will never form any meaningful relationships, but still ready to continue the life that got him there.

I haven't talked much about Reitman's work, and that's because his greatest achievement on YOUNG ADULT is letting the strength of the material and his actors to the work for him. I'm sure upon watching the film a couple more times that I'll see more of his imprint on the work, but upon first viewing, it seems he's taking a minimalist approach to his visual style and concentrating more on extract the best performances possible from his cast. Sometimes, that's all it takes, and I applaud his restraint.

The real surprise about YOUNG ADULT is that it's not actually a movie about an unhinged woman trying to win back her ex-boyfriend (well, that's not ALL it's about). It's primarily a strange little love story about a one-time class beauty and a quiet little man who assembles action figures and lives with his sister (a scene stealing Collette Wolfe). But the real eye-opening thing about this movie how determined it is not to be any one thing or fit neatly into a genre; I find that ferociously refreshing. And back to my original point, I love that nothing that Reitman, Cody, Theron, or Oswalt has done to this point has quite prepared us for what they accomplish with YOUNG ADULT, a deftly smart and sometimes unnerving work that takes us down unpredictable roads and thrives in its dark corners. It simultaneously reminds us of the best and worst parts of the human soul, and shows us that a lot of people use both in order to get through the day. This is a great movie that doesn't use the usual tricks to show us how great it is. The film opens December 16.

-- Capone
capone@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 4, 2011, 12:37 p.m. CST

    Juno - the mainstreaming of lesbian contempt for men

    by SmokingRobot

    Sisterhood is powerful, and cute, and funny and nurturing and life affirming. Men are toads and weasels, although they can partially redeem themselves by being effeminate and weak. Thus endith the lesson.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Juno- made me wish my parent's never met

    by fred

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 12:40 p.m. CST

    Nice review Capone

    by Jason

    Kept it brief and pertinent. Looking forward to checking out this movie.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 12:44 p.m. CST

    Right on.

    by blackwood

    Colour me very interested. Excited to see Cody grow as a writer. I've liked-to-loved every film Reitman has turned out. Thanks for putting it on the radar, Capone.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 12:56 p.m. CST

    I loved Juno

    by dukeroberts

    I thought it was hilarious. This looks good too. I don't think that Reitman has disappointed me yet.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 1:08 p.m. CST

    nothing like Juno? sounds like a winner

    by coz

    pretentious hipster claptrap, that

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 1:22 p.m. CST

    So tired of hearing people bitch about Juno

    by Neosamurai85

    Love it, hate it... for godsake can't we be DONE WITH IT? Anyway, yeah, this looks great. Charlize and Patton look like they're giving amazing performances here.

  • Several people I know just adore the hell out of Juno. In a way, Juno and Young Adult are kind of the same. Both Juno and the character of Mavis have this one thing happen in their life that seems more like a speed bump than a typical world-shattering lifestyle change like most movies would do. They both seem to continue on their merry way once the annoyances around them have subsided. It does seem somewhat selfish...but humans are often selfish people. I know I can be sometimes. And kind of like how Mavis is unable to change some of her vices, we all have things like that where people tell us, 'you should do this or that.' We often consider them, but don't act on them. I will admit I somewhat enjoyed 'Jennifer's Body,' which in some places seemed more fun than 'Juno' was, but 'Young Adult' is definitely a film that has made me consider there's more to Cody's writing than talk of 'pork swords' and 'honest to blog' conversations.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 1:27 p.m. CST

    Happy to read this

    by Frat Boy

    I remember reading the script and not being a fan. Solid work by Cody, but I never bought the motivation behind many of Mavis' decisions. She just comes apart at the seams more and more as the script progresses. Plus, I get a little tired of the wannabe writer character complaining that they never made it in life or that they're not doing the kind of writing they originally intended. It's like, come on. It's a job, isn't it? It beats working in a coal mine, doesn't it?

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 1:41 p.m. CST

    "Well, Minneapolis."

    by Fixxxer

    Minneapolis is fucking awesome. It's simultaneously a big city and a friendly college town, and the bar scene is fantastic and varied. It's easy to get around, it's safe, and it's clean. Oh, and there are hot college girls EVERYWHERE.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:12 p.m. CST

    fixxxer...

    by LazyDolphin

    and it's a balmy 40 figgin' below zero in the winter. Those hot college girls may be everwhere, but they're buried under 50 pounds of fur-lined hats, baggy sweaters and poofy down parkas

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:19 p.m. CST

    I liked Juno

    by I am_NOTREAL

    And don't care who knows it. Yes, it's overly cute on 2nd pass. And it's nowhere close to realistic. But so what?

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:19 p.m. CST

    Lazydolphin and fixxer

    by Tank Williams

    I have lived in Minneapolis for 28 years, so yes, I can confirm both of your statements.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Menstrual_bloodfart

    by Tank Williams

    How old are you? No, really, I'm curious how old you are...

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:23 p.m. CST

    Menstrual_blood fart - pt. 2

    by Tank Williams

    Someone who calls another person a fag, and uses words like "turd vaporizer", is either a teenager, or an adult who acts like a teenager.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:47 p.m. CST

    good write up. now i really want to see this.

    by therootstheroots

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:48 p.m. CST

    by therootstheroots

    i think cause i did a weekend of united states of tara, and it was weird.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:57 p.m. CST

    YAY!

    by TopHat

    Yet another movie glorifying being a self-absorbed asshole! Ahhh, the sweet afterglow of unaccountablity.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:58 p.m. CST

    Not All Minneapolis

    by Andrew Bertke

    According to director Jason Reitman, who spoke after the Minneapolis premier of Young Adult a few weeks ago, the college town parts of Young Adult were not shot in Minnesota. They were shot in update New York.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 3:59 p.m. CST

    Not update New York

    by Andrew Bertke

    err... upstate New York.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 4:04 p.m. CST

    Trailer sucks and makes me want to staple my eyes shut

    by regan

    the muted colors, music and mood scream dull chick flick, but this review sells it as something that might be interesting. well done C

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 4:10 p.m. CST

    Glad to see this review didn't get pulled

    by ToshiroShimura

    Common now, Capone! You should know by now to confirm the movies you are allowed to pan BEFORE you go ahead and write the review

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 4:45 p.m. CST

    Diablo Cody LOL

    by Margot Tenenbaum

    lolololoollooololololol

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 4:48 p.m. CST

    That Blob '88 animation is great

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 6:12 p.m. CST

    From the looks of the trailer

    by Nerd Rage

    it didn't seem as layered or deep as the review suggest. But I'd love to see Oswalt be nominated for an oscar eventually. Just so he'd get offered more juicy roles.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 9:04 p.m. CST

    Collette Wolfe could almost get me to see this

    by gumbyandpokey

    Hmmm, I hate Cody's writing, but Collette Wolfe is very underrated, imo, and I'd like to see how she is in this.

  • And I'm a fairly contemptible sort of fellow.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 10:34 p.m. CST

    Juno was Reitman's weakest

    by cory

    although, still very good. I'll watch anything he puts out.

  • Nov. 4, 2011, 11:36 p.m. CST

    Reitman's 3 for 3 so far; I'll see anything he makes

    by JacksParasites

    I just don't get all the Juno criticism. I get that it might not be to everyone's taste, but it's an objectively solid film. Decrying the characters as "hipsters" or saying it's too cute, or whatever are reasons YOU may not personally like it but then your review is more about you than about the film. Not everyone personally likes Citizen Kane. Maybe they dislike the characters or they think its too talky. But that doesn't make it a bad film on any objective level. I think it's become popular to bitch about Juno and Diablo Cody because it's like they became a hit almost over night, so people want to write the film and its unusual screenwriter off as some passing fad. It's like Justin Bieber and that "Friday" girl. I don't have any idea if they're talented or not because it's not for my age demographic and so I haven't really listened to them, but what I do know is that almost as soon as they hit it big, they had an army of haters. And I strongly suspect that the majority of that hate had little to do with whether they were talented or not but with the mere fact that they achieved massive fame and success at such a young age. We'll have to wait and see if Juno stands the test of time but if the best criticism you can throw at the film is that its characters are too hipster, I suggest you find a better excuse to hate the film that does a better job of hiding your jealousy.

  • Nov. 5, 2011, 12:46 a.m. CST

    "honest to blog" "moveon.org" "home skillet"

    by gumbyandpokey

    That kind of writing is why some don't like Diablo Cody. She has a very distinctive writing style and some love it and some hate it. There's no hidden agenda.

  • Nov. 5, 2011, 2:21 p.m. CST

    jacksparasites re: Rebecca Black & Diablo

    by mrgray

    Here's the point that you missed about Rebecca "Friday" Black: she got popular because it was fun and "ironic" to enjoy her awful, awful song. And this is what's wrong with the current youtube generation of hipsters. If you make something popular because you think it's funny for it to be popular, guess what? YOU FAILED. You've made her a success and because you can't just say, "Holy shit, this is awful, I'm NOT going to link my friends to it." she now has a record deal. Garbage gets a pass. As for Diablo Cody? I liked Juno a lot, but thought it was madness to give Cody the Oscar for Original Screenplay. If Juno could be said to have flaws, they are largely script-related. The biggest being structural/arc related. I found it enormously bothersome that Juno overcomes one of the big obstacles of the movie by making peace with her mom BUT then half an act later she's at war with mom again. WTF? You can't make a character progress and then regress and never address that relationship dynamic. The movie also introduces the romantic tension between Juno and Bleeker but doesn't adequately address that, either. We get some scenes between them that establish the dynamic, but the actual progression from fling to potential relationship isn't tracked all that well. The movie generally suffers from a lot of start-and-stop plot traffic and character progression.

  • Nov. 5, 2011, 8:28 p.m. CST

    Juno sucked!!!

    by Citizen Sane

    Clumsily written by a blatant man-hater. I guess she sucked too many cocks dry for petty cash.

  • Nov. 6, 2011, 9:13 p.m. CST

    Reitman's excellent Up In The Air was superior....

    by Orbots Commander

    ...to Juno, any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Seriously, it's a very good, understated directorial effort and it's also one of Clooney's most affecting performances, and sums up almost all of his past screen roles, into a single individual. Its subject matter still remains very timely. An aside, I also thought that if there were ever a franchise-starting The Flash film, Reitman would be a perfect director for it.