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Typically messed up people and messed up middle class lives make an interesting story when there is no revenge for which one needs to make retribution, or when there is no obvious injustice to which human dignity requires courageous defiance in defense what is right. Without bloody revenge or absolute justice, the intelligibility of the ordinary messed up life as it is exhibited in the typical “podunk” American town seems to be the guiding insight of meaning for good stories. This seems to be what Jason Reitman (director) and Diablo Cody (screenwriter) were going for in their latest movie—Young Adult. It surely wasn’t sympathy or sentimentalism because the lead character—the beautiful Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary—exemplifies none of those moods to say the least. Throughout she is generally unlikable, but since she is the main character we the audience are stuck with her, and we are taken through her alcoholism, depression and dementia. Young Adult has a leading character in Ms. Theron who must be one of the least sympathetic characters I have seen portrayed in a movie which bills itself as light “dramedy.”

Yet, despite this harsh judgment Mavis (Ms. Theron) has a bizarre clarity which if it doesn’t show any redeeming qualities, at least shows (in albeit a cartoonish way) a real problem of the relation of ambition for glory and the difficulties of achieving it, and the recognition that when one has strived for greatness one nonetheless might well end up a failure. Throughout the movie, we are reminded from the townfolk back home in Mercury, MN that Minneapolis (the town in which Mavis now resides) is known as the “Minnie-Apple.” This Minnie-Apple is where our protagonist has found her big life in the big city, but it is not as great as it would seem. In the opening scenes we see cluttered trash and empty wine bottles in her apartment. We even see her delicately escape from the draped arm laying over her naked body after a one-night stand as they are lying in bed—and all this takes place in her own apartment. In other words, things are bad for her.

The movie Young Adult tells the typical story that when one has not achieved one’s greatest ambitions, one “can’t go home again” neither. The movie ends with Mavis inspired again to leave the town of Mercury from which she left. However, given her cold and distant relations with her family, as well as her overly dramatic freak out at her ex-boyfriend and wife’s “non-religious” naming ceremony of their infant child, it leaves the audience to wonder of the solidity of her confidence for her future.

The conceit of the movie has Mavis (the wonderful Ms. Theron) returning home hopefully wishing to reconcile with an ex-boyfriend who now happens to be happily married with a newborn child. Mavis obviously thinks highly of herself if she thinks she can overcome this barrier. Needless to say, she fails.

In this movie, a messed up person, Mavis has an early mid-life crisis (early at least in terms of today’s life longevity and not in terms of her “lifestyle” choices). She is a writer of a teen series of young adult novels that in terms of its publishing sales—instead of what is truly a good story—has had its day. It’s over both for her and the series. There are no vampires in her books, and sales are slacking to such an extent that her books are in the bargain bin. The series of novels for which she writes were originated by another writer many years back—Mavis Gary is only a name hidden on the inside flyleaf of several volumes of the series. She is a “ghostwriter” at best. Despite these details, from what the movie shows (though deft voiceovers of Macy writing the final novel of the teen series on her laptop) the YA novels apparently detail the life of “young adults” at a prep school—but the movie Young Adult doesn’t give us much information about details, except that Mavis Gary is assigned to write the conclusion to the entire series. Apparently she has broken protocol and used many of her own experiences as character and plot details in a series she did not create.

From what the movie details, these YA novels describe the intricate loves and hates that “bitches” at a prep school make for themselves in terms of one amongst another. Apparently Mavis was such a bitch, but despite such inside knowledge, throughout the movie, we see Mavis eavesdropping and poaching upon teen aged girls’ conversations as raw material from which to build the final plot of the series.

It turns out that in writing this final novel, Mavis’s job is up, and in the movie we wonder about what her life will hold afterwards. Mavis has spent many years writing high school novels, which has forced her to live a life in terms of politics as high school factional animosity between jocks/cheerleaders and nerds/theater “fags”. When she returns she is thinking in terms of the same, and she is humiliated when she gets drunk at her ex-boyfriend and wife’s “non-religious” “naming ceremony.”

The notion that one can return to one’s past and hometown is seriously ridiculed in this movie. It is sad, but I loved the KenTacoHut joke. It is true.

In the movies these messed up people tend to act in terms of a panic that pertains to questions of life and death, and the meaning of one’s own life. Okay, I exaggerate, but in this movie the panic in is shown as a symptom of depression and/or alcoholism. This is how the movie shows it.

But Mavis meets Matt (played by Patton Oswalt), the boy who was the victim of the the “hate crime” back in the day.He was the victim of “gay bashing,” To this day he walks with a crutch, and he was beaten up, even though he was never gay in the first place. Mavis doesn’t remember him until she remembers him as the “hate crime guy.” Compared to Mavis, he has become a hometown “loser” who hasn’t made it to the big city of Minneapolis. Perhaps their equal loneliness is a point of connection. While Mavis may not be as big as she thinks she is, Matt is not as small as he thinks he is.

The hatred which beat up Matt never stopped to ask the question of the fact of whether or not he was actually gay. As if it matters, we see Matt in terms of living a life surely degraded had he never been attacked. Yes this plotline is overdrawn, but Mr. Oswalt carries it well. He befriends Mavis at a bar, and for awhile it looks like Mavis and Matt may have met their own soul connection. But Ms. Theron’s good looks would have never met Mr. Patton’s obsession with making what he calls home made “Bourbon,” let alone met his fascination with redesigning plastic action figures (i.e., dolls) from comic book characters.

So Mavis and Matt are destined to live alone. The movie indicates no transcendent way in which either can overcome this scenario. One is stuck with booze or plastic action figures. The movie doesn’t show the married couple in enough detail to offer an alternative.

This is a problem, and surely Mavis has a problem if she can’t even talk to her own family. This issue is entirely dropped from the plot. Instead, Matt’s sister gives Mavis inspiration to move back to Minneapolis though a cruel negative example.

It seems that Mavis has learned nothing.

So I liked this movie even if I gave away most of the plot. This is the movie despite its faults.

The soundtrack is good too—Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr, etc.

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