When an Oscar nominated director works with an Oscar winning writer, both of whom previously collaborated on an Oscar winning film (Juno, 2007), there's sure to be a lot of Oscar buzz. And it's already begun — for Young Adult, the latest collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. In this drama-comedy, Charlize Theron offers a compelling performance as Mavis Gary, a character who is bound to make you cringe.
By the age of 37, Mavis should have matured but remains totally self-indulgent in every respect — and then some. She eats what she wants (directly from the container), lives undaunted by schedules, watches reality TV shows from bed, pursues meaningless hook-ups with men, drinks to excess, and isn't even a reliable caregiver for her sweet pooch.
You might ask who can get away with behavior like this and still pay their rent? A writer it seems (not that I took it personally.) Mavis is a semi-successful author of vapid young adult fiction who is unable to meet the deadline for what turns out to be the final book in her series, blowing off the editor with unanswered phone calls.
In an abyss of self-loathing and narcissism, Mavis exchanges her comfy Hello Kitty tee shirt and sweats for a short tight skirt, stilettos, and a blouse with bling. After transforming her physical appearance, she abandons her unkempt apartment in the big city (Minneapolis) to take care of unfinished business in the small Minnesota town where she was raised.
Recently divorced, she's intent on reclaiming her glory days as a mean girl, a high school femme fatale — and on busting up the current marriage of her one-time beau, Buddy Slade (played by Patrick Wilson), who has just become a father. It doesn't even occur to her that he's content with his life, as is.
Mavis' boundaries and respect for others are as lacking as her insight. Theron gives a masterful performance as the archetype of the disordered personality who's stuck in misery and who has skillfully honed the art of making people around her feel the same way, too.
I attended a screening of the film at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, which was followed by a conversation on stage between Reitman (who also directed Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air) and New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin. Reitman said that he knew he "got it right" when he sensed how uncomfortable the film made audiences feel during previews. I agree.
The movie opens nationally on December 16th.