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Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Young Adult" Is the Perfect Chick Flick for Chick Flick Haters

With all the so-called well-intended chick flicks with squeaky clean endings, is it any wonder that we're starved to see a heroine who's not redeemed and holding hands with her frenemy by the end of a movie?

Well, we've finally found our girl with screenwriter Diablo Cody's newest wiseass concoction, Mavis Gary. The Juno writer pens a refreshingly scathing female character at the helm of a movie that will make some cringe, and others smile in mutual understanding.

Charlize Theron takes on this devil of a character in the Jason Reitman-directed dramedy, Young Adult. Mavis is the 37-year-old ghostwriter for the once popular young adult book series, "Waverly High," which is sadly losing its celebrity at the same time as its scribe. As Mavis begins working on the last book of the soon-to-be defunct series, she gets word that her old flame from college, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), has just welcomed a bouncing baby girl.

While this would be wonderful news for many, Mavis works herself into a tizzy at the mere thought that her ever awesome, beer-guzzling beau who couldn't keep his hands off her in the 90s has fallen prey to family life in their boring hometown of Hickville USA, otherwise known as Mercury, Minnesota. So she packs up the remains of her glamorous city life (generally consisting of a laptop, several shades of black nail polish, a couple of scandalous outfits, and her small dog) and hightails it back to her old digs to raise hell. Her mission? To rip Buddy out of the flannel-wearing arms of his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), so that can she and him can reclaim their status as the it couple.

While this train-wreck is too juicy to miss in person, we're left thinking what grown woman would not only pine after another woman's man all these years, but actually go so far as to try to steal him from his wife? Well, many would. But few would do it to, essentially, relive their college years. Trouble is, Mavis is still living her co-ed life--drinking too much, gorging two-liter bottles of soda found on the floor of her bedroom, even coveting the same naivete as the characters in her teenage books. She is desperately clinging on to her heyday as her adult life continues to unravel in rapid measure.

What's worse, now she's involving others in her juvenile collapse. She's not just being happily biting on her own time, but she's inflicting it on others. Beth isn't the only one in town feeling the coolness of Mavis' wrath. Mavis has it out for Buddy's baby (who she apparently doesn't think is all that cute), Beth's lame wannabe band, and even taking digs at her former classmate, Matt Freehauf (an impressive turn by Patton Oswalt), the only character who stands up to her bullying and calls her out for who she really is.

Mavis just isn't what you'd call a character who's genuinely fun to be around. That's what makes her so cinematically endearing. Throughout the whole film, which she carries, we are made to feel progressively irritated by her. She's politically incorrect, obnoxious, and unapologetically bitchy. But she's humanized by Theron. She's not a caricature. You know this person. Some of you may be this person. No matter which group you fall into, you can't help but to be charmed by her brutal honesty.

At a time when when many lead female characters from the big screen are painted as dignified, rescued, or cured of their faults by the ending credits, it's comforting to see one as despicable as Mavis get substantiated by her flaws, not indicted by them. Admittedly, the statement the movie makes is far more profound than anything that happens in the movie. The film essentially follows a mean girl's natural born meltdown, which isn't something we haven't seen before. But you only see her once really claim that she may be having a breakdown, and it's not that mushy, let's-talk-about-our-feelings-in-a-supportive-atmosphere type of recognition. It's more like she hits rock bottom, realizes for a minute that she's there, then brushes herself off and goes back to stirring her pot. Now that is a tough broad.

Cody's captivating sharp-tongued script really propels this movie to the level it is. But Theron's big return to the big screen (three years, to be exact) proves to be well worth the wait. Too often we see actresses have to look unattractive wearing dumpy clothing or disheveled hair to pull off the role of the villain. But Theron is stunning as Mavis, contradicting that theory. But she throws some of the most annihilating--though beautiful--glares we've seen on the big screen. She really is that popular mean girl we all hate to love. And we shouldn't feel bad about that.

Rating: B+


Emmanuel Lopez - Motivatorman said...

I am going to see this movie just because of the title of your blog post! Although I do not hate chick flicks I was hooked by your title! Thanks Candice!

Daniel said...

Great review, I've been looking forward to this film for a while, doesn't sound like I'll be let down.

Brittani Burnham said...

A movie for Chick Flick haters? I'm in!

Dan O. said...

Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review Candice.

dirtywithclass said...

Movies with consistently un-sympathetic protagonists can be tricky, but when done right the results can be interesting

Lesya said...

Wow, you really liked the film. I'm looking forward to it!

Colin Biggs said...

You see a film like this a lot with male protagonists, but very rarely with women. I'm interested to see how this is treated across the board.

(Fr) Dennis Kriz, OSM said...

I liked the Mavis character because she proves something that I've learned from experience: When there's someone (male or female) who's acting very strangely, there's probably a story behind it. Mavis had a story.

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