Paramount's 2010 Oscar strategy worked in spades: avoid the early fall circuit, keep things hidden until the last minute (December release) and keep them anticipating. This approach garnered "True Grit" ten Oscar nominations and a massive $250 million worldwide gross, and seven nominations and $129 million worldwide cume for "The Fighter." Not too shabby at all. For Jason Reitman's "Young Adult," Paramount seems to be employing a slightly similar tactic.
Not arriving in theaters until late in the Oscar game (December 16th), Paramount is not yet screening the film to press (though they have for selective Reitman-friendly bloggers). Instead, they are attempting to build word-of-mouth-buzz, by screening "Young Adult" in last minute, secret “pop-up” screenings (that each have an original piece of artwork to go along with it to entice bloggers to keep writing). The film turned up in Austin and Chicago recently, and for the former screening, it took place during the Austin Film Festival, but wasn’t actually part of the fest. "That’s kind of like saying you want to avoid your ex-girlfriend and then hanging out at the grocery store where she shops," wrote the Austin 360 of Reitman’s desire to avoid the fall film festival, in a rather wry observation.
Reteaming Reitman with writer Diablo Cody, some early reviews have called it the “the wicked step-sister of ‘Juno’ ” and based on the script we’ve read, it’s an accurate comment. The film is comedic, yet raw and dark, centered on a desperate and unhinged young adult fiction writer (played by Charlize Theron) who returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids. She’s essentially an alcoholic, delusional, narcissistic and one hell of a hot mess. And the filmmakers don’t even attempt to try and place a smiley face on the character or film.
"Who wants to go fall in love?" Reitman quipped sarcastically after the recent “Young Adult” screening at Chicago's Music Box Theater. “It's kind of like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in that way,” Diablo Cody added jokingly, “You feel like you’ve triumphed over something.” (minor spoilers below).
Paramount knows it has a hard sell on its hands, hence the word-of-mouth approach. In many ways, the character is deeply unlikable, and for Cody, making the character a better person was exactly what she was trying to avoid. "It was important to me that she [didn’t] have a traditional redemption arc like you constantly see in most films,” Cody said. “Because I have this theory that assholes don’t actually change. I wanted to be realistic so I thought, let's have someone on the precipice about learning about herself, but then she really doesn't. Because we've all seen that play out over and over again.”
The lead character is so unpleasant in spots, when she finished the script, Cody had doubts the film would ever get made. "In fact I didn't think I could get the script made in that incarnation,” she said. "But luckily Jason came on as a director and is such a wonderful…and so respected then everybody said, 'Alright, if Jason wants to make a movie about a bitch, let's do it.’ ”
Reitman credits the uncompromising last act of the film for sealing the deal of his directorial interest. "What was special about this screenplay was the confidence in the last act,” he said. “[It] was written so greatly, it's one of those things, like any movie where you're waiting for the character to change and the fact that she doesn't, the fact that she reaches that moment, and has this realization, and is not making changes.... it's oddly similar to 'Up In The Air.' A movie about someone who comes to a conclusion and doesn't act on it and I think that's essentially truer to life and got me excited.”
In fact, Reitman liked the script so much he shelved his plans to make another film, marking the second time a Diablo Cody screenplay had made him change his game plan. He was preparing to do “Up In The Air” when the “Juno” screenplay landed in his lap. “I thought. ‘Jesus, I have to direct this or I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.' ” Likewise, he had adapted the novel “Labor Day,” which was supposed to be his “Up In The Air” follow-up, but then Cody’s “Young Adult” arrived at his doorstep and the filmmaker once again switched gears. “[It’s going to be] my next movie,” he said (casting includes Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin so far). “And I stopped that to make ‘Young Adult.’”
Of course, having a “bitch” in your film automatically lends itself to audiences asking the writer if she is actually a thinly-veiled version of Theron’s character. “Mavis [Theron’s character] is on a different level. I hope I’m not too much like her though occasionally I catch a glimpse and I’m scared,” she joked. “[Going home for her is] a darker reunion, she has a lot of ugly feelings and she feels like she’s been slighted, she has a massive entitlement complex.”
“I feel like there’s a little bit of Mavis in all of us and the movie is strangely – it’s an ugly mirror,” Reitman explained. “A lot of movies [are] a mirror that reflects the good things about you and you go, ‘Oh there’s that great quality in that character and that reminds me of something in me.’ This is a movie where you go, ‘Wow, there’s something really unlikable about her and I kind of see that in myself.’”
“In other words huge box-office,” quipped Patton Oswalt who plays an old high school acquaintance in the film who becomes an unlikely friend. “So get ready. Get in line now, that’s all I’m going to say. The Burger King tie-in is going to be very uncomfortable. It’s not going to be pretty. We can’t reveal it, it’s gonna be really rough, they’re re not happy.”
Theron’s unapologetic performance is already generating Oscar talk. “When [Jason] cast Charlize I was thrilled, but at the same time I thought, ‘Oh god, she’s so beautiful how is she ever going to be an object of pity for anybody who watches this movie?’,” Cody admitted. “So it’s shocking for me when I watch it and I see how truly physically and emotionally haggard she is able to become at times, and it’s amazing. She’s a really amazing actor and I feel the things I’m supposed to feel about her.”
Why this particular story after charming fare like “Juno,” and the sarcastic horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body”? Well, there’s a bit of a connection to everything that came before it. “It seemed like the next logical step as a writer was to explore maybe why I was so obsessed with adolescent themes and I worked that out a little bit in Mavis,” Cody said. “But it’s funny, people have mentioned the similarities to ‘Jennifer’s Body’ in that you have this kind of cool, calculating, gorgeous monster making her way through the story, but I think Mavis is a little bit more complicated. It’s interesting though: I do like hot bitches.”
Cody is going to raise the stakes again on her next project, and she is currently preparing her directorial debut, a comedy with a religious theme tentatively titled “Lamb Of God.” "It's totally intimidating. I'm freaking out. It's so different from writing that it surprises me that writer-director is a natural trajectory," she said in a separate interview with the L.A. Times. "To me, I can't believe how different the directing gig is compared to sitting at a computer in my pajamas."
Btw, we've already heard that the film features “pop-saturated soundtrack” and this photo reveals four songs in the film, The Lemonhead's "It's A Shame About Ray," Dinosaur Jr.'s "Feel The Pain," "We've Only Just Begun" by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams and "Pledge Your Allegiance" by Suicidal Tendencies. Hopefully another trailer hits with that Dino song, that would rule. Here's a few of the recent pop-up screening posters below.