Jason Reitman Hits Home: Young Adult

12/07/2011 4:00 AM |

Young Adult
Directed by Jason Reitman

Jason Reitman’s first three features treated “dark” topical material—the cancer-stick lobby (Thank You for Smoking), teen pregnancy (Juno), and outplacement (Up in the Air)—with merely an irritating pretense to irreverence and discomfiture. So the deeper mortifications of the self-described libertarian’s fourth feature, Young Adult, written by Juno scribe Diablo Cody, come as something of a pleasant surprise. “I think this song was playing the first time I went down on you,” says Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a lunatic recent divorcee, to her high-school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), as his wife hazards a cover with her band. During the film’s credit sequence, we go inside a tape player as Mavis blasts that same Teenage Fanclub song—the first track on an excavated two-decade-old mixtape given to her by Buddy—en route from Minneapolis to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, under the mistaken assumption that she’ll be able to win him back.

The former prom queen, now the barely credited author of high-school romances and a slobbish consumer of two-liter Diet Cokes (pop-culturally, she has regressed from tasteful alt-rock to the most vacuous reality television), is herself trapped in one of her model fictions, and has long brattily assumed that any feeling she has will be reciprocated. Of course, she doesn’t hold herself to such standards: Some of the finest moments in Theron’s glamourless performance, which far surpasses her Oscar-winning Monster dress-down, come when she’s unable to recall less popular former classmates. Her passive cruelty is so extreme that the boozy friendship that develops between her and Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt)—initially recognizable to her as “the hate-crime guy,” because in high school he was savagely beaten by homophobe ’roid ragers—never seems credible. So follows a drawn-out, and oddly transparent, comparison between disparate high-school traumas. But, happily, Young Adult also remains attuned to the strip-mall deflation of returning home. Over reunion drinks, Buddy boasts that the town is “getting a Chipotle”—perhaps the first market reality that Reitman has successfully converted, without signs of straining, into a joke.

Opens December 9