We see Charlize Theron's...morning routine... Then her writing. We hear a voicemail. We watch her fascinated by a picture, that arrives via e-mail, of a baby. She's out at lunch with a friend. She's asleep on the couch (after her and her friend talk about how great it is living in "the city" because they have lives), Keeping Up With the Kardashians on the TV. She goes on a date. She wakes up in bed with the guy. She packs, leaves (leaving the dude in her bed), and drives.
The title screen and opening credits occur now. Theron has put a cassette tape in her car's tape player. She had, as she was packing, removed the tape from a box in her closet (we can imagine this is long-term story). It's a mix-tape. Probably, we can also imagine, from an ex-boyfriend. The tape begins in the middle of a song; she rewinds it. Play. "She wears denim wherever she goes, says she's gonna get some records by the Status Quo-o. Oh yeah." Theron is singing Teenage Fanclub "The Concept" as she drives.
The song plays over the opening credits. We're shown, through the use of extreme close-ups, the cassette, its parts, how it's "working". Also the tape deck, its circuity, how it "works". This sequence encapsulates the mission of Young Adult.
Director: Jason Reitman
Writter: Diablo Cody
Mavis Gary: Charlize Theron
Hate-Crime recipient; Theron's newfound drinking buddy: Patton Oswalt
Oswalt's sister (idolizes Theron): Collette Wolfe
Theron's high school beau: Patrick Wilson
Wilson's wife: Elizabeth Reaser
Young Adult is the character study of Mavis Gary. It's not a black comedy or a drama. It's not a dramedy. Critics are saying that it's uneven (without ever really clarifying what they mean by that). I can only imagine they mean it jumps from voyeurism to buddy comedy to romance to drama. This is only uneven if you're trying to define the movie by any one of those categories. If you define it as "Character Study" then the movie is very even (it simply has elements of voyeurism, buddy comedies, romances and dramas).
Really, that frame, Character Study, is the way to understand and appreciate Young Adult. Because if you attempt to view it as a buddy comedy, a romance or a drama, you'll find the movie, well, uneven.
I argue the opening credit sequence is the key to the film.
We can view the sequence in two ways.
First, as mission statement. Just as the camera is exploring the mechanics of the cassette tape and the tape player, the film will explore the mechanics of Mavis Gary. She is like the song, "The Concept", playing over and over. And we will see, over the course of the movie, what is making her "play".
I think we can find further evidence for this in the way the credits ONLY appear in shots of the tape.
We never see a name in the shots of Mavis driving, singing, letting her dog go to the bathroom.
Second, as metaphor for Mavis Gary.
The one track playing over and over again, a 90's track no less, from the mix-tape her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) made her, is symbolic of Mavis's quest to take back her high school boyfriend. It's the only thing she can think of.
Mavis's personality is mechanical. She isn't living. She's operating. There's a drastic contrast in the way we see Wilson's wife (Elizabeth Reaser) laughing as she plays the drums during a gig at a bar with her band, and the way we've seen Mavis. This scene, this contrast, follows a scene where Mavis, at Wilson's and Reaser's house, asks Reaser what some chart is. Reaser explains she teaches children (I can't remember if she says "autistic children" or not) who are not naturally able to display emotion. So Reaser has the children point to, on the chart, the face/emotion they are feeling. Mavis asks what if they're neutral, is there a face for that. Reaser explains that "neutral" is common for most of them, they don't need to learn "neutral".
This idea of "lack of emotions" culminates with Mavis breaking down and asking why it's so hard for her to be as happy as everybody else seems to be. The response, given by Collette Wolfe, is that the people Mavis thinks are so happy (the small town classmates Mavis had left behind) aren't happy at all, that they all want to be Mavis (famous and living in the city) and that Mavis should be happy, that Mavis is awesome and wonderful and extraordinary. Mavis leaves this conversation invigorated. But one of the last shots is of her looking at the mutilated front end of her mini-cooper (which she had driven into a light post). This once pristine car is damaged, an external manifestation of one of the film's major themes: the body's fragility.
I think the circuitry and mechanisms of the tape and tape player shown in the opening sequence are emblematic of Mavis's brain and personality (we could argue then that the car represents her "body" or "life"). Even though she seems, after Wolfe's uplifting speech, ready to move on, she hasn't changed what she is. Growth hasn't occurred--a tape player can't change, a cassette tape can't grow. What has occurred is merely the cessation of the one song's repetition: Mavis is no longer playing "The Concept". She's moved on to the next track. (Which, in fact, happens after the opening sequence, there's like two or three seconds of the song that follows "The Concept", then a cut). Does she find happiness? Does she overcome her alcoholism?
I'm not sure. My initial reading was no, there is no happy ending for Mavis. But, if she was happy before, she could do it again, right? Can't she repair the car? Isn't there, in the title, the idea that maturation will happen? The Young Adult becomes the Adult? Can't one can upgrade from a tape to a CD to a MP3? The question isn't does she. It's will she. And the answer isn't important. The question is asked because the purpose of art is to cause self-reflection, to make you, the viewer, take the question that is prompted, and ask it of yourself: Have you matured? Will you?
Did I like it:
Yes. But I wanted more.
I love Theron. And it was interesting watching Patrick Wilson since the only other movie I've seen him in is Phantom of the Opera. I thought Patton Oswalt did a great job, but I'm shocked he was nominated for the Critics' Choice. His performance didn't...floor me. I keep thinking, "Was there no one else better?" and find it hard to believe there wasn't.
Oh, whoa, did not realize Patrick Wilson was Nite Owl in Watchmen.
I liked Reitman's direction.
I like the twist on the redemption scene. Wolfe is obviously pandering to Theron. So all the stuff about Theron being better than everyone, that everyone admires Theron and wants her life, that all the people (including Wilson and Reaser) are unhappy and don't matter and that Theron matters, that she's someone of import, all of that is undermined by the fact that Wolfe idolizes Theron and wants to please her. Everything that's said is totally subjective. And insulting to anyone from a small town who is happy with their life.
Oh, there's one scene I found irritating. And that was when Theron and Oswalt are leaving the bar the first night they meet. The conversation becomes really serious about what Theron is going to do. To me, it was like someone forced Cody to put in a scene re-stating Theron's mission and declaring the tension between Theron and Oswalt (who, from this point forward, is constantly telling her she should cease and desist from trying to reacquire Wilson).
The movie felt small to me, which isn't bad, I just didn't know it was only 94 minutes. Short, sharp, well-crafted, it reminds me of a Don DeLillo post-Underworld novel. But I wish I had known that going in. I was slightly jolted when it ended.
I think Cody did a good job of, in the second half, showing us reasons why Theron is trying to escape her adult life. The individual reasons are subtle. Add them up and you see a life in shambles.
OH. The speech in the front yard was so painfully awkward that I actually pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my face and watched from around the edge. My friend had a hand over his face. It was the first scene to make me cringe since the repetitious voice mails in Swingers.
What It's Good For:
-being a cerebral movie
-actors and writers and directors
-insults small town life
% Character / % Actor's personality
Oswalt: 40/60 (I thought Oswalt was just a version of himself, rather than a character)
Reitman: Juno; Up in the Air
Theron: Monster; North Country; The Road
Wilson: The Phantom of the Opera
Character studies: There Will Be Blood; Magnolia; Fight Club; Another Earth; Taxi Driver; Into the Wild