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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Young Adult

Another film that I saw ages ago but I probably have a bit more to say about this than yesterday's entry.

Despite what the poster might suggest, Young Adult features the reunion of both the writer and director of Juno - Up In The Air is good enough and all, but why mention it rather than underlining the fact that this is a film by the same team behind Juno? Weird marketing aside, though, that this is a follow up of sorts to Juno does mean that it comes with certain expectations. Juno is a mostly beloved little film with a flavour very much its own so it's not unfair to expect Young Adult to go some way towards recapturing a bit of that old magic. And, you know what, it kind of does exactly that.

It's worth mentioning that since Juno, its director, Jason Reitman, went on to make a multi-Oscar nominated film in the form of Up In The Air, while writer Diablo Cody indulged her inner geek and made the largely ignored, but actually damn entertaining Jennifer's Body. Young Adult oddly hues closer to Jennifer's Body and Juno than Up In The Air and, without denigrating Reitman's excellently indie direction, it's clear whose voice is more prominent  in this writer/ director collaboration.

This story of an immature and emotionally damaged writer of young adult books (the title cleverly refers both to her profession and her own emotional state) who returns to her old homestead to try and win back her old high school sweetheart. The film plays out with all of those Diablo Cody trademarks that people either love or hate - the stylised dialogue, the pop-culture references, the focus on an engaging but far from perfect central female character - but it has a darker edge than Juno, occasionally even resurrecting the off-kilter strangeness of Jennifer's Body.

However, for all that Cody certainly leaves her mark and Reitman matches her stylistic tics, quirk for quirk, Young Adult's considerable, if flawed, success lies in the hands of Charlize Theron. This does make Young Adult the third film out of the last four I reviewed to feature at its centre a stellar performance from its leading actress but, even if Theron is a bit older than Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence and has certainly had more acting experience than the two of them combined, her work here is no less of a revelation.

Charlize Theron's exalted celebrity status in this country does occasionally overshadow just how great an actress she can be and her Oscar win for Monster occasionally overshadows just how funny she can be. How nice then to have a film like Young Adult to remind us just how good and how funny she could be. This is a film where much of the humour plays like the UK version of The Office at its most cringe-worthy and Theron proves to be particularly adept at this kind of uncomfortable comedy. Beneath this though, is a character study - this film is 99% about character, 1% about plot - about a seriously broken, self-destructive, self-hating woman who places all of her sense of self-worth in external forces and people and, however much she constantly makes us laugh in this film, she perfectly portrays, with plenty of subtlety, all of the layers that lay beneath this fabulous comic creation.

Young Adult may be a bit too uncomfortable and a bit too rough around the edges to have anywhere near the kind of longevity and rewatchability of Juno, but it's a sharply written, effortlessly directed and beautifully acted (the rest of the cast including Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt are top notch support for Theron's whirlwind of a performance) and is well worth the trip to your local art-house cinema.


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