The movie Young Adult, with Charlize Theron as a
writer author of fiction for the tweener demographic seeking to rekindle a high-school romance, reunites Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman of Juno fame to produce, not a great movie, but a courageous one.
By many measures, Theron’s Mavis Gary is a success, escaping her small-town origins to earn a solid living as a published
writer author in the big city. But the movie subtly yet deftly portrays how mediocre success actually looks like most of the time. Or rather, unlike most female romantic leads, but like the vast majority of cases in real life, the success falls far short of the self-actualization that it is billed as.
Let’s count the ways. First, the “big city” in this case is . . . Minneapolis. Not NYC or LA. Not even Atlanta, or Portland, or Seattle. Now, while I’m sure Minneapolis is a perfectly decent city, it hasn’t made any of the “cool” lists of which I am aware, and it’s difficult to imagine a young person growing up dreaming about moving there.
Likewise her career. Mavis is a contract
writer author: her name appears inside the flyleaf while the series’ creator is emblazoned on the cover. She does the work, and is evidently well paid, but she lacks creative control and fame.
Even her apartment communicates the disappointed expectations. She lives in a high-rise, with a killer balcony view, but the interior shows no love or settledness. It’s clean, but strictly functional.
Mavis enjoys full sexual liberation, of course, but all this means in the opening scenes of the movie is what we take to be one of a series of meaningless hookups, bringing home a man from whom she is content to slip silently away the next morning.
Mavis heads back home to liberate her former flame from his “baggage” (wife and newborn daughter), discovering along the way that folks find their small town lives happier and more fulfilling than she finds her own. This is a fairly well-worn movie trope, of course, but I’m pressed to think of a film that sets it in such direct opposition to feminism.
This is not the movie’s only challenge to political correctness. Mavis starts an unlikely friendship with the fat nerdy kid she ignored back in high school and who we think might be the key to her redemption (although, this being a Reitman film, he isn’t). She only remembers him as “the hate crime guy” for getting permanently crippled by a gang of jocks for suspicion of homosexuality. “Yeah, it was national news for a while,” Matt-the-geek acknowledges, “but once everyone realized I wasn’t actually gay, I stopped being a hate crime and became just another fat kid who got his ass beat.”
A secondary theme of the movie is getting-over-high-school. It is especially poignant that Mavis, who has defined her life as an escape from where she came from, thereby remains trapped by its status structure.
The movie is low key, but the central cast turns in respectable performances. I note in passing that I have always regarded Charlize Theron as exceptionally beautiful and well put together in the classical way, even by Hollywood standards, and that she has kept most of this beauty even now into her late 30s. Does anyone else see her that way?