Anything expecting laugh-out loud, happy-slapping-mates type of comedy from this Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody sophomore collaboration will be sourly disappointed. Young Adult is anything but a comedy. Sure, the devilish sniggers come now and again, with Charlize Theron pulling some spectacularly performed bitch-from-hell antics, but the laughs to be had here are lashed with barbed-wire cynicism and spiky irony that it will leave you partially discombobulated. It’s that rare creature – an anti-mainstream, anti-romcom tragicomedy slicked by the Hollywood oil machine itself (hello, Paramount) headlined by an anti-heroine so up her own arse she could barely see the consequences of her pathological bitchiness. Enter Mavis Gary, the by-product of high-school proms, popularity contests and the all-American dream, whose lifelong ambition of joining the halls of celebrity fame practically never happened. Fast-forward to the present, she’s a prolonged, on-going car-crash without any fatalities aside from her own psychological and emotional disaster. Often the film begs to question ourselves whether we should laugh at this wreck of a woman-child – both a depressed sociopath and vengeful alcoholic-in-denial – or feel sorry for her lack of life management skills.
Yet, unlike in traditional Hollywood narrative where the tragic heroine finally comes to terms with her gaping flaws and conquering her adolescent sweetheart, Young Adult spits in your face with acidic sarcasm. Cody’s writing isn’t busy with niceties here, but rather pulling out a punchy critique to toxic American commercialism and obsession of fame and success. Mavis is the epitome of that 21st century obsession; a self-deluded monster who can cheat, lie, and claw her way inbetween echelons of society. Hardly a likeable character, but that’s not the intention. Theron embraces the material and adds humanity to a woman who’s otherwise a hardcore raging bitch, even near-miraculously injecting sympathy to her wretched attempts to win her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson in insipid American middle-class mode) back, or her hesitant friendship with a high-school loser (Patton Oswalt stealing scenes at every turn). The last-act itself is a scene to chew on, with Theron’s Mavis committing one of the most viciously self-humiliating social acts committed on-screen, spitting every lacerating hatred and contempt to norms. Yes, it’s black bile and a little hard to swallow – but she means every single word of it.
Don’t be misled to expect a LOL comedy out of Young Adult. The laughs to be had here are of the scathing, scabrous kind – it will leave you partially wounded. This is a dark tragicomedy seething with nihilism, with a raging ex-prom queen bitch as an anti-heroine, personified to pitch-perfection by one matchless Charlize Theron.