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Young Adult: Early Reviews and Theron's Deliciously Narcissistic Anti-Hero

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood December 5, 2011 at 11:40AM

"Young Adult," the lastest from director Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air") and screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno") is a rare black sheep. It plays like a dark indie comedy with attitude, but it stars Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, sidesteps convention and beats to its own drum. It doesn't conform to mainstream laughs or tidy endings, nor does it charm its way into our hearts. Reitman and Cody happily make us squirm by pointing out things in the culture and ourselves that we may not be ready to see.
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Young Adult, poster closeup

"Young Adult," the lastest from director Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air") and screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno") is a rare black sheep. It plays like a dark indie comedy with attitude, but it stars Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, sidesteps convention and beats to its own drum. It doesn't conform to mainstream laughs or tidy endings, nor does it charm its way into our hearts. Reitman and Cody happily make us squirm by pointing out things in the culture and ourselves that we may not be ready to see.

Theron tells the LA Times: "I think the greatest characters are the unlikable ones, but mainly men get to play them. Rarely do women. And they are so delicious..those characters are so interesting." She took the role because she considers Reitman to be a director who "make(s) the kind of films I feel could raise my bar." Theron comes roaring back after a three-year hiatus. (Next up: the wicked witch in Snow White and the Huntsman.)

Theron's Mavis dictates the action through the film, forcing herself into situations that she must escape.  She brings her own grief. In HuffPo's "Charlize Theron's Young Adult and the Crisis of Narcissism in Our Popular Culture," Govindini Murty asks: "What is the ever-increasing narcissism in Hollywood entertainment doing to our broader culture?...Charlize Theron's Mavis embodies all the narcissism of modern popular culture," from reality TV to her self-inspired young adult novels  and her obsession with "appearances and shallow celebrity status." To keep up with the "instability of identity" she "adopts different personae as it suits her." Ultimately, the film "vividly depicts what happens when self-love crosses the line into monstrous solipsism." What ultimately fuels the film is reality "crashing into the hermetically-sealed world of Mavis' narcissism and she is forced to deal with it." 

Check out the Star Tribune's interview with Cody, in which the writer admits: "I've dealt with situational depression. I do have an addictive personality. I can be self- destructive. I can be vindictive."

Patrick Wilson and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult"
Patrick Wilson and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult"

Check out some early reviews below:

THR:
"A tart, abrasive character study of a seriously messed up writer who pens a twisted new episode to her own life, the pungent Young Adult feels like a chapter in what by rights should be a longer film or novel,..a smartly observed, well acted but narrowly conceived story about a deluded author of teen novels,..Jumping into the deep end with an essentially unlikeable character who is nonetheless compelling and sometimes great fun to watch, Theron is terrific. She makes Mavis' arrogance and certainty of her own allure not only convincing but enjoyable. When her behavior becomes pathetic and pitiable, however, there's no feeling of deserved comeuppance, just relief that going too far will finally provoke her to pull herself together."

Indiewire:

"With self destruction as destiny, Reitman has made the equivalent of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie writ small, an apocalyptic scenario internalized by a single person. He intends the movie, as he has stated in interviews, to place viewers in a state of incredible uneasiness by inhabiting Mavis' screwy perspective in all its unflattering glory."

Variety:
"American comedies have spent the last few years exploring the idea of the man-child -- physically mature, but mentally stuck somewhere between high school and adulthood. Now we meet his female counterpart, and it's not a pretty sight,..[Theron] plays closer to home [than in "Monster" and "North Country"], inviting auds to observe the process by which she makes herself beautiful, painting on makeup, clipping her nails and attaching hair extensions to disguise her physical flaws. But the scowl etched on her face reveals the ugliness within, demonstrating a naked candor -- one that extends to the screenplay itself -- that's plenty admirable, in part because it's so squirm-inducing to behold."

ThePlaylist:

"Mavis is one serious piece of work, though: an uncompromised bitch as romantic lead, prone to chugging soda and huffing glue with equal nonchalance, toting around a yippie little dog named Dolce (of course) and helping herself to overheard teenage banter in a half-assed effort to appease her editor with the first draft of her last book,..No amount of make-up can disguise the fact that she’s a self-sabotaging alcoholic with an unfailing superiority complex, a newfound habit of stalking her ex and no long-term job prospects once this series of books/paychecks run out, and Theron plays her every flaw to pitiful perfection."

Box Office Magazine:
"Cody's snappy, spot-on writing and Reitman's clear-eyed direction should suit audiences looking for a black-as-night dramedy with bite,..Mavis' mission is never less than pathetic and while we laugh at her, Theron's sharp work accomplishes something much richer—after a while, we actually feel for her."

This article is related to: Reviews, Directors, Headliners, Interviews , Box Office, Awards, Genres


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.