Let me start by saying that I’m a Jason Reitman fan. He took a hard-to-like main character with an even harder-to-like job and made a fine film with Thank You For Smoking. He followed that up with a personal favorite of mine in Juno, transforming Diablo Cody’s script into a Best Picture nominee. He did slip up a bit with Up in the Air (read my take here), but it was still a noble effort.
This Christmas he and Cody have reunited for Young Adult. I wish they hadn’t.
What went wrong? Like the Tin Man, this film has no heart. Not even a smidgen.
As professional a performance as Charlize Theron gives, it is truly uncomfortable to watch. Her character has not a single redeeming trait. She is oblivious to the feelings of others, even as she realizes that she is incapable of any herself. It goes on to the point of tedium to watch her abuse and mistreat former classmates and her own family. She even looks at a baby like it’s a horned toad. OK, I got it. The expression "less is more" came to mind by about the thirty minute mark.
Now I’m not one of those people who thinks every movie should feature a main character we can “root for”. (The Godfather and Scarface did OK with anti-heroes.) At the same time, I also don’t think that watching a film should induce suicidal thoughts in the viewer.
At the second act plot point of Young Adult, I actually thought we were getting the moment where we realize why Mavis is a sociopath. I was almost to the point of sympathy and empathy. But it didn’t last. Instead, Mavis wakes up the next morning somewhere where she shouldn’t be, after doing something we know she regrets, and turns right back into Cruella DeVil. Oh yeah, and we are left with a huge unresolved subplot in the process.
And, by the way, the bit of back story that is supposed to "explain" why she is the way she is, doesn't do so. Her reaction to that factoid - or Buddy's maybe - might have done it. In other words, who broke up with who and why? But we never get that reveal. Kinda important.
I don’t know what Reitman and Cody were trying to accomplish with this. I can understand not wanting to make another “chick flick”. But Juno wasn’t that. Neither was Bridesmaids. And I didn’t want to check into a mental health facility at the end of either of those. Sadly, unlike both of those films, I think this main character and her story will prove to be an audience repellent.