Saturday, December 24, 2011

Jason Reitman: Femininity, Narrative and Satire (Young Adult)

Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Young Adult, Paramount Pictures, 2011.

The gradual decline over the past decade of so-called "chick flicks" can be attributed to heavy studio reliance on cliches. Bad scripts are standard business with all of their trite machinations. Female central characters and their foils and foibles are almost always presented in an idealized artificiality, which could work in the right director's hands. Insufferable martyrs march through cardboard plot holes as the audience devours it all. A film like Jason Reitman's bravely beguiling Young Adult and its fascinatingly fractured heroine Mavis Gary (a complex turn from Charlize Theron) comes along once in a blue moon, revitalizing the discerning filmgoer's thirst for a tartly affecting protagonist.

With one of the best screenplays of the year, Diablo Cody displays real growth as a writer, moving on from the coyness of Juno and Jennifer's Body to an evolved style with a lot more scope. Her characters feel and sound real, with her distinct dialogue toned down and smarter. Her characters are fucked up and sad and funny, her structure alarming.

The plot is incidental to the depth and style of the creative team behind it all. An ex-popular girl in high school is now a bitter, hard partying young adult novelist divorcee living in Minneapolis. Distressed by an e-mail announcing her highschool sweetheart and wife's newborn baby, she packs up her laptop and lapdog and heads home to win him back. The level of her psychosis lends the film a gravity which hangs over each sequence. Her utter failure and budding bar-friendship with a former highschool geek classmate (an invigorating Patton Oswalt) straddle the thin line between pathetic and uncomfortable.

Reitman hits a career high note here. Always an ace at building narrative, with the indefatigable Young Adult, he masters it . Thank You for Smoking was a brilliant debut, followed by two solid successes, Juno and Up in the Air, which displayed his destiny as a great American satirist with heart. In Young Adult, he has complete control of all elements in the world he is simulating. His devices are so well done that they become invisible.

Charlize Theron has always dazzled us. Transcending the shallow pretty girl roles her momentous beauty landed her, with Monster, North Country, The Burning Plain and now this, she solidifies her reputation as one of the best actresses working in America. The subtle nuances and surmounting psychosis she inhabits and owns with intensity is infectious. Her rapport with earnest shmo Patton Oswalt is a joy to partake of.

For more than anything, Cody and Reitman have crystallized a deeply woven satire. Satirizing "chick-flicks", middle-America, Gen-X disillusion, expectations of femininity, the very core of storytelling. Mavis' deadpan voice-overs from her newest teen novel provide a freshly provocative narrative-mirroring device which enfolds the picture in rich delight. Recalling Alexander Payne at his sharpest, Young Adult is the best "chick-flick" of the year.

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