Film and TV

Charlize Theron Stars as an Aging Mean Girl in Diablo Cody's Young Adult

​In a high-rise apartment in downtown Minneapolis, Mavis Gary (played by Charlize Theron) -- young adult fiction author, divorcee, and aging prom queen -- takes a morning swill of Diet Coke and peels off last night's As-Seen-on-TV, stick-on bra. 

After a Wii Fit step program in roomy sweats, she checks her email: On the screen, bright and cheery, is the photo of the brand-new baby girl of her high-school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), and his wife. In the words of Aziz Ansari: Unsubscribe!

This bouncing baby .bmp is the inciting incident for our wry anti-hero, who quickly packs her bags (little fluffy dog and all, like a mid-life-crisis Paris Hilton) and gets on the road to small-town Minnesota, singing along to the mixed tape ("Mad Love!") Buddy made for her a long, long time ago.

Why adults young and old will love this movie -- and why we fall back in love with Diablo Cody -- after the jump.

She's decided she and Buddy were meant to be together, and no one is going to stop her from getting him back. Least of all Buddy's wife, Beth - played by Twilight beauty Elizabeth Reaser - a laid-back, artistic spirit who probably grew into her looks, and now plays in an amateur band of local moms that headlines the town's best sports bar (foretelling a scary future for millennial moms and living-room Rockband reunion "tours").

With her long legs, fashion sense, and almost sociopathic narcissism, Mavis is an alien in the chilly town she once escaped, where everyone seems to have a flannel shirt and surrendering brown eyes. 

She finds one very peculiar bedfellow in former classmate Matt (comedian Patton Oswalt, who's popping up everywhere these days), and their scenes are easily some of the strongest in the film. Bonding over alcohol and a misanthropic sense of humor, the two - like Barbie and a broken Furby - play off each other brilliantly.

Mavis may not be ready to grow up, but this film marks incredible growth for writer Diablo Cody. Known for her hipper-than-thou dialogue, which to critics of Cody sounds like a record-scratch of pop-culture pastiche loudly disrupting narrative immersion, Cody here allows the dialogue to take a back seat to character development and performances. 

She allows her characters to be quirky. And while this isn't quite to say that you should mourn the loss of a different, unique voice in the midst of the vast wasteland of low-risk, over-hyped Hollywood, it is about time we saw a different side of Diablo.

​There's another reason Cody's writing really shines in this film: As a character, Mavis would be so easy to hate. She's the epitome of the mean girl from high school who never stopped being mean, she just got a little more wrinkly. But Cody gives her moments of incredible depth when you least expect it, and Theron rises to the challenge.

Young Adult is directed by Cody bestie Jason Reitman, who received an Academy Award nod for his direction both of Cody's Juno and Up in the Air. It was shot on a shoestring budget of $12 million in only 30 days, a feat so impressive it makes Clint Eastwood look like an unorganized lush. 

Rated R for a reason, this darkly witty comedy-drama is one for the adults, bearing a very different message from the many seasonal family films: You can go home again, but ... maybe you shouldn't.

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Amanda Kehrberg
Contact: Amanda Kehrberg