As a hack writer for the imaginary Waverly Prep School series of young adult novels, thirtyish and habitually drunk Mavis (Charlize Theron) is the antiheroine of Young Adult. Needing a break, Mavis drives from her condo in Minneapolis to Mercury, the small town where she grew up, with plans to rescue her high school prince, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), from his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). Unfortunately for Mavis, the couple has just had a new baby, and Buddy shows no sign of dissatisfaction.
The set up is ticklish, but director Jason Reitman and scriptwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) have decided to "alternatize" the film, including nods to the righteous moms Cody knows in Hollywood. At one point, Beth and some friends take a break from breastfeeding to play some bar-rock in a band called Nipple Confusion.
And just how backward is Mercury supposed to be? The town is described as boring and smelly, but the visuals look more like a John Hughes hamlet—bland but clean.
Mavis picks up a drinking buddy, Matt (Patton Oswalt). He's a pudgy, short beta male still crippled from being queer-bashed decades ago. Oswalt's Matt is covert, a good reactor, who comically tolerates Mavis' many moods, and he gives this film some earned bitterness.
Charlize Theron can look convincingly ratty, and slutty and drunk. She does un-glam things like picking at herself or spitting into a printer's ink cartridge to prime its pump. Theron is funny, but she's one-level funny, and watching her Mavis is like watching an SNL skit go on for an hour.
The independent films of the last decade have had loads of nasty, fail-prone, mean-for-the-fun-of-it characters, opposing the idea that movies have to be about pretty people with pretty problems. In Young Adult, Reitman and Cody seem to be attempting that kind of seat-of-the-pants filmmaking, without having the stomach to go really down and dirty.
'Young Adult' opens Friday, Dec. 16, at Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma.