“Young Adult” is not so much a comedy as it is an awkward look at a woman who wants her life to be as simple as young adult fiction. There are funny moments in the movie, but mostly Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) will make viewers cringe and want to look away from the train wreck.
The movie was written by Diablo Cody, who also wrote “Juno,” a movie about an accidental teen pregnancy, and the TV show “The United States of Tara,” about a woman with multiple personalities who is struggling to keep her family in tact. “Young Adult” is probably somewhere between the two – it has some humorous moments, but it doesn’t have quite the final uplifting moment that is found in “Juno.”
Mavis Gray lives in the big city, Minneapolis, where she ghost writes young adult fiction. She is passed the deadline on her latest book, the last in a series, and she is struggling to finish it. Her life mostly consists of going out at night, drinking too much, bringing a stranger home and waking up hung over the next day, unable to work on her book. When she gets an email with a birth announcement from the wife of her high school ex-boyfriend, she decides to change up her routine. But her gumption should not be mistaken for a positive move.
She heads back to her small hometown, a place that she views with extreme disdain, with a plan to steal Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) back. Never mind that she is not a high school girl out for revenge, like the characters she writes. Or that Buddy is happily married with a new baby at home. Mavis believes she can win him back. And at first, it seems like it might be likely.
Mavis returns home under the guise that she is dealing with some real-estate investment. She calls Buddy and pretends to ask him casually to meet her for a drink. The first night he turns her down, but agrees to set up a time to get together the next evening. Mavis ends up alone in a bar where a former classmate recognizes her. Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) remembers Mavis well and she pretends to remember him. She doesn’t really remember him at all, until she remembers that he was a dorky kid who got beat up badly by a group of jocks. She makes light of his injuries even though they were extensive enough that he still requires a cane to walk around and has other lasting impacts.
When she is drunk enough, Mavis confesses to Matt that she is really in town to win Buddy back. He scoffs at her and seems torn between believing that she would not really go through with it and that she might actually pull it off. When Mavis meets Buddy for drinks at a sports bar, Matt is there peering at them as though he were Mavis’ conscience. But she doesn’t seem to have a better side as she continues with her plan.
Even after she meets Buddy’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and the baby, she still thinks she has a shot with Buddy. She takes everything he says and does as a sign that he is interested – even if he is talking about his wife and baby.
When Mavis’ parents discover she is in town, she returns to her childhood bedroom and seems to revert even further into her delusion that Buddy is hers for the taking. She wears the school sweatshirt he gave her when they were in high school, pretending to Matt that Buddy just gave it to her the night before. In one of the sad moments in the movie, Mavis confesses to her parents that she might be an alcoholic. They just ignore it as an off-hand remark.
Mavis loses her footing when it becomes clear that Buddy is not interested in her. She attacks Beth and the guests who are gathered to celebrate Buddy’s new baby. She confesses an uncomfortable secret and in the end she ends up following her same pattern, just not with Buddy. The end of the movie feels anti-climatic and though there are moments when it feels like Mavis might be turning a corner, the end makes it clear that she is happier with her delusions than making a real change in her life.