At one point in “Young Adult” (2011), Charlize Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, crashes her car in a parking lot after having a few drinks. We realize she has hit rock bottom emotionally, and we get a sense that there is no way she is going to come out of this mess. In fact, she has been on a downward spiral ever since her divorce. With sagging energy, Mavis is disinterested in and emotionally detached from her surroundings. Nothing delights her anymore, and with each passing minute, Mavis progressively alienates herself. In simple words, Mavis is depressed and hanging on to her past. She checks in a Hampton Inn located in a small town, with the hope that a new place might give her inspiration to write. But behind all of this, she comes with a plan to rekindle an old relationship with her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Welcome to the world of Mavis Gray, where things are going to get messy and hurtful.
Jason Reitman directs another movie that explores the complexity of human relationships. With “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “Juno” (2007), and “Up in the Air” (2009), Reitman is quickly becoming one of the promising young directors working in Hollywood. While “Thank You for Smoking” (2005) and “Juno” (2007) were lighthearted dramas, his last two movies, “Up in the Air” (2009) and “Young Adult,” are more serious adult dramas, concentrating on the challenges in developing a meaningful relationship. “Up in the Air” focused on a relationship between a man and a woman, but Reitman elevates “Young Adult” to the next step: the aftermath of a breakup and letting go of the past. Mavis personifies the character traits of a person who is finding it hard to face reality following her divorce. Her vulnerabilities are exposed, and as a fallback mechanism, Mavis contacts Buddy, who is happily married with a newborn child. Things get complex from this point onward.
But one can’t blame Mavis for going back to her past. Even though we don’t learn the cause of her divorce, Mavis appears emotionally exhausted and consumed by the whole idea of starting life all over again. She doesn’t even want to entertain a new relationship with someone. Nonetheless, her attitude toward her life is a natural defense mechanism, triggered as a consequence of a failed relationship. So why does Mavis want Buddy Slade in her life again? For two reasons: First, they had a past relationship for a few years, and the second is a bit more multilayered. For implicit reasons, Mavis feels warm and fuzzy about connecting with Buddy. The past makes her feel safe because it was something that worked for her. Moreover, Mavis thinks she understands Buddy well and that reconnecting will not be difficult. In fact, she thinks Buddy is unhappy and possibly trapped in a bad marriage. But, would it be ethically right for Mavis to force her way into Buddy’s life? This thought never crosses her mind, and she is absolutely blinded by her old loving feelings, romanticizing her future with Buddy again. She lacks wisdom (or conveniently chooses to ignore it) because she doesn’t want to face the harsh truth that Buddy and she can’t be together again, as in the good old days. On top of this, Mavis is rapidly transforming into an alcoholic, and it clouds her thought process, leaving her weak and distracted.
We think Mavis is irresponsible, and her overall behavior is creepy. There are moments when we feel Mavis still has a teenage mind-set to things, and we hope she matures soon. She has to understand that practical aspects in life take precedence over emotional ones. Just when we are settled, fully soaking in Mavis’s unsettled personality, “Young Adult” delivers a sucker punch in the final act. In the final sequence, we understand Mavis’s personality better. The sequence describes Mavis’s past and the main event surrounding Mavis and Buddy’s relationship. Instead of sugarcoating the real issue, Reitman presents a frank introspection of Mavis’s past. The ensuing outburst from Mavis is emotional and candid and cross-examines everyone in Mavis’s life with a different lens, detailing why Mavis alone cannot be held accountable for her behavior, as there were things beyond her control that shaped her personality. Mavis’s abrupt profanity toward Buddy’s wife reveals how much Mavis hates Buddy’s wife and the fact that Buddy is blessed with a happy marriage. Mavis is unable to let go of things, and the final segment provides her the strength to move on. Hearing herself talk makes her realize she can do better in the given circumstances. In the end, we sympathize with Mavis’s situation and endorse her bold way to face reality, opening a new door for her to the outside world. My only criticism about the climax is that Reitman probably revealed the secret too late and rather abruptly.
Charlize Theron’s multifaceted performance is realistic and captivating, and I am sure she will be nominated for an Academy Award in coming months. Her character goes through different phases, and her initial portrayal of a teenage person when she comes to the town is very well acted. She is sexy, naughty, and utterly pleasing, magnetizing us with the dreamy character of hers. In more serious segments, Theron presents the complexity of Mavis’s character believably by acting like a real-life person entangled in a relationship crisis, and she feels comfortable in playing the dual personalities.
“Young Adult” connected with me in every way, especially when Mavis says, “Life, here I come.” Mavis’s journey to this point is painful, and yet it radiates with optimism. The self-realization process starts by first eliminating self-denial and focusing on what lies ahead; Mavis takes this step. The film has a darker tone than “Juno,” so don’t expect a coming-of-age teenage comedy. “Young Adult” is brutally honest, with a positive message about life and relationships. Indeed, “Young Adult” is one of the best movies of 2011 and not to be missed.