Her latest script, entrusted to the more-than-capable hands of Jason Reitman (UP IN THE AIR), gives us a particularly unvarnished portrait of a smart and talented woman approaching middle-age, supposedly equipped to succeed but already disappointed, depressed and dead-ended, which Charlize Theron tackles with customary daring. There is enough irony in the dialogue to make us laugh with bitterness, while the rest makes us (at least me) laugh with recognition. It's packaged, I think, as a comedy but it's black as hell; if there is a joke, it's on us.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, the ghost writer of a failing series of Young Adult novels, and there has rarely been a truer look at the profession in this day and age than the film presents in its first few minutes. Facing an unclear future, she is reminded of a time in life that actually held promise when she receives an email announcing the first-born of her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and returns to her hometown -- sullenly packing up her bright-faced and shamefully neglected Pomeranian -- determined to win him back. ("Sometimes, in order to heal, a few people have to get hurt," she narrates, in one of the film's several resonant lines.) She is not only looking past the fact that Buddy is now a happily married man and new father, but the equally glaring fact that she's no longer the popular girl she was in high school, but rather a raging, embittered, delusional alcoholic. Upon returning to her hometown, she makes an unexpected alliance with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), the chunky misfit who was her locker neighbor and admirer-from-afar back in the day, who remains disabled by a hate crime her loose lips may well have helped precipitate.
Comedies involving pain are usually the funniest, and this one is ultimately a drama -- darker even than JENNIFER'S BODY, Cody's not-entirely-successful attempt at a horror movie. There are several "bitterest pill" moments along the way, but I especially liked the morning-after scene between Theron and Collette Wolfe, who plays Matt's sister. Which brings to mind another thing I admired about this film: it insults a large number of its characters, but it clearly loves them all. The darkness of YOUNG ADULT may discourage some people from wanting to see it more than once, but I suspect I'll want to see it again, probably spending time with it whenever it pops up on cable in the years ahead, much as I've tended to do with Terry Zwigoff's similarly acid but amusing films. I'll know in advance that these dissatisfied (if not lost) souls aren't going to solve their problems, but their struggles will be good company as I continue my own, which I saw reflected herein from time to time.
Viewed via Amazon Instant Video HD.