what happens to the Homecoming Queen when she’s past her prime? That’s the question posed for Charlize Theron in her new film Young Adult.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, an attractive 30-something divorcee, whose career as a ghost-writer for a series of teen romance high-school novels bodes well to be supplemented by a burgeoning second career as an alcoholic.
Through her own high-school years, Mavis had a serious involvement with Buddy Slade, a good-looking jock played by Patrick Wilson (2010’s Insidious, The A-Team). The two drifted apart, lost touch with each other and each ended up marrying other partners.
But when Mavis receives word that her former beau is celebrating the birth of his first child, she resolves to rekindle their relationship, despite the fact that Buddy is by all accounts happily married and content in his new role.
She sets off from her home base in Minneapolis, ignoring telephoned entreaties from her publisher for the next installment of her series, and drives toward the small town of Mercury, Minnesota, where Buddy still lives with his wife and child.
Stopping in a local bar, she runs into the person who had the locker next to hers in high school, but whom she never talked to.
Matt Freehauf (played by TV comedian Patton Oswalt) now wears a leg brace, the result of a vicious anti-gay beating by jocks in his senior year. After a few drinks, she shares with him her motive for returning to Mercury.
“Buddy Slade and I are meant to be together, and I’ve come to get him back,” she tells him.
Matt suggests she could use therapy. In subsequent chance meetings, he becomes the unwilling clandestine confidante for her plans, cautioning her against them all the while.
Young Adult is a fascinating study in the art of self-delusion. Theron delivers a masterfulperformance as a woman tied to her own narcissism and her glory days as a glamorous prom queen, at once envied and detested by her peers.
Her own self-image is sharply at odds with her reality. At one point she walks into a local bookstore to buy and sign a copy of her supposedly best-selling series for a young admirer, all the while never connecting to the fact the books are all displayed on a remainders pile.
When the truth about her relationship with Buddy finally sinks home, it hits her hard.
Young Adult is testimony to the substantial skills of an actor whose career has largely lagged since her Best Actress Oscar-winning performance in 2003’s Monster.
Wilson is adequate in his role as the blindsided ex-boyfriend, but he has little to do apart from reacting to his former steady’s over-the-top fantasizing.
Oswalt’s performance is perhaps the most interesting, portraying a semi-crippled high-school fat-boy geek, who finds himself involuntarily thrown into the drama of the emotionally crippled Mavis, who never grew out of her glamour-girl role.
The tight and engrossing script is by screenwriter Diablo Cody. An ex-stripper, Cody won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2007 for the script of Juno, directed by Canadian-born Ivan Reitman(Up In The Air, Thank You For Smoking).
Cody and Reitman are teamed together again for Young Adult. With any luck, their latest collaboration may well be a dark-horse contender in the Oscar nominations lineup, to be announced January 24.
Young Adult plays at 7:00 and 9:10 p.m. at the Yukon Theatre, and is rated PG for coarse and sexual language.