by Matt J. Popham
A tart, unforgiving character study disguised as an ironic homecoming comedy, it’s a shame that this cutting little gem disappeared so quickly after its release. Diablo Cody’s distinctive, yet curiously divisive voice has matured since Juno. No longer hiding behind her talent for cleverer-than-thou colloquy, Young Adult’s screenplay is quieter and more confident, allowing Cody’s talent for peeling back the layers of her unconventional characters to achieve full bloom. Jason Reitman, once again, proves the ideal director for her work, realizing that her singular synthesis of too-cool comedy and cutting commentary serves as camouflage for an aching sincerity and a genuine sympathy for certain types of middle-class misfit that most people would rather demonize or ignore. As two such misfits from opposite margins, Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt make a perfect odd couple, bound by an inability to relate to the average, normal, contented folks they simultaneously envy and disdain. Oswalt knocks it out of the park, but his scarred and sneering character is a slow-pitch down the middle. It’s Theron, as fading former prom queen Mavis Gary, who really shines, delivering her best performance since Monster. Mavis is an altogether different kind of monster than Theron channeled as Aileen Wuornos, but in her own way, no less tragic or horrific. Entitled, self-centered, and vicious, Theron plays Mavis’ brittle predatory urgency as both comical and sad, balancing it with a weathered, lonesome weariness. An adult who never matured, she is stalled, like Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf, in an adolescent limbo, her bitter, bedraggled inner child hanging in tatters off her golden goddess frame, as plainly as her shabby Hello Kitty t-shirt. It’s impossible to like Mavis, but it’s equally impossible not to feel for her. And seen from Cody’s and Reitman’s unsentimental vantage point, the question is not only whether she will ever be ready for the real world, but also whether the real world will ever be ready for her.