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Young Adult—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 9, 2011 1:00 AM
7 Comments
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What are we to make of Young Adult? Clearly, we’re meant to applaud Charlize Theron’s willingness to use her beauty more as a shield than an asset as she plays a thoroughly unlikable character. A onetime high-school heartthrob, she’s fallen into a pitiable state—barely employed as a ghost writer, living an empty existence in the Big City and drowning her self-loathing in alcohol. For a combination of not-entirely-credible reasons she returns to her hick hometown, determined to win back her erstwhile boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who’s now happily married and the father of a baby girl.

We’re used to seeing movies about men who refuse to grow up. There is admittedly some slight novelty value in a film that trains an unforgiving eye on a female who, at the age of 37, tries to relive the last good period of her life, some twenty years ago when she was the prettiest girl in school.

The problem is that Theron’s character, devised by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, is a human train wreck. She’s so desperate for company that she develops a relationship with a guy she considers a loser (well played by Patton Oswalt) because he’s always available, especially as a drinking companion. He had the locker next to hers in high school, but all she remembers about him is that he was notoriously brutalized by some bullies who thought he was gay.

Like a train wreck, Young Adult is surprisingly compelling, and Theron gives a potent performance. But the film offers no real pleasure and has no resonance, other than a bitter aftertaste. We don’t come away with any deeper understanding of small-town America, middle-class aspirations, or beautiful women whose looks belie their true nature.

Having admired all of Reitman’s previous films, and having always known that Theron is a talented actress, I find this film particularly disheartening

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7 Comments

  • Jim Reinecke | May 7, 2012 5:44 PMReply

    Okay, Leonard, I know that I'm several months late weighing in on this subject but I didn't catch this SPLENDID film (yes, I said that!) with what I felt was an Oscar-nomination-worthy performance by Ms. Theron until seeing the DVD this weekend. These kind of people do exist (take it from a man who had a couple of girlfriends like the character of Mavis!) and they're incredibly complex. The film's pedigree aroused my curiosity (Reitman and Cody did give us JUNO after all) and, once I got into it, I was loathe to hit the pause button. This film is a challenge, offering no easy answers, yet giving Mavis something of a glimmer of hope for redemption in the final scene, a final scene, may I add, that doesn't feel like a copout. This has become one of my favorite films of the new milennium and the only reason that I didn't post this rebuttal earlier today was due to the fact that I first had to return the disc to the library and then hustle to the local Barnes and Noble to purchase a copy of this powerful, rewarding movie for myself. That's how much I loved it. I'm usually in your corner, Leonard, but I think you were very unfair to this film.

  • Albert | December 12, 2011 11:04 AMReply

    I have not seen the film, but as usual, Mr. Maltin cannot stand to watch a film that shows the really unpleasant side of human nature. He didn't like "Black Swan" either. But not every film can be a 1930's screwball comedy, or a literary adaptation with Golden Age of Hollywood stars, nor a detective thriller, nor a happy musical. How on earth did Mr. Maltin get through John Huston's "Moby Dick", or the Orson Welles "Macbeth", or the Polanski "Macbeth", or the Ian mcKellen "Richard III", or "In Cold Blood"? The fact that Ivan Reitman is willing to make this sort of film is a tribute to his willingness to tackle controvrsial subjects.

  • HarmonicaVirgin | December 11, 2011 4:42 PMReply

    You did not understand this movie. You completely missed its subtlety. You even missed the parts that weren't subtle. Were you watching this movie while you were asleep? It was dark and deep, but you're somehow seeing it as a movie about "a woman who refuses to grow up." You missed the point. SPOILER ALERT!!! We learn that she lost her baby almost 20 years ago. She was *ready* to become an adult at that point, but she lost both the baby and her boyfriend. She was thrown into a state of arrested development and convinced herself that she was "free" when she was really shackled by the past. She decided that what she couldn't have was actually what she didn't want, when she actually so desperately wanted it. I mean, there is *so* much going on in this movie, and I don't have the time or inclination to write a dissertation on it here in the comments. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that you approached this movie with a shallow mindset.

  • Boa | December 10, 2011 8:45 PMReply

    Not surprised that Leonard Maltin wouldn't like it. We've had many male antiheroes on film, but people can't take it when a woman is in that role. There has to be something redeeming about her or people are put off. Why does everything have to be pleasant? Why do we need all the answers? I applaud the makers of Young Adult for going for it. It's a gutsy move.

  • Dexter Morgan | December 9, 2011 4:37 PMReply

    Agree with @ari. Young Adult is certainly is my top 5 of the year and it's one of the bravest, wittiest, and entertaining films I've seen all year. Diablo Cody writes an admirable script and Charlize Theron is a monster in the best way possible.

  • Ari | December 9, 2011 4:36 PMReply

    I completely disagree with you. The whole point is that people don't necessarily change. Mavis was never told "no" or that she was wrong growing up and her parent fed into her entitlement complex, hence her lack of reality and the fact that she never grew up. For Mavis to suddenly change in the third act would be a disservice to the brilliance built up to that point. This film is GREAT, not just good. Theron gives one of the most stunning and compelling performances of the year and Oswalt proves he's so much more than a stand up comedian. You clearly missed the boat on this film, and it's fine because not everyone is going to like it-- it's a polarizing film but it certainly is not a bad film. In fact, I would go out on a limb here and say (along with all the TOP CRITICS raving about this film), it's the best of the year.

  • Ray | December 9, 2011 3:35 PMReply

    Thanks God, Leonard. You nailed it with this review. All the pretentious newspaper and trade critics in LA and NYC were praising this movie for no reason. You really called it and exposed this movie for the ugly, horrible snapshot it was. What would we do without you, Mr. Maltin.

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