RIORI Volume 3, Installment 12: Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult” (2011)

Young Adult

The Players…

Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Elizabeth Reaser, with Colette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry and Mary Beth Hurt.

The Story…

Popular teen novelist Mavis Gary has hit both career and life arrest. She’s going nowhere fast, and despite her (very) modest success she feels like she’s lost something along the way. A happenstance invite back to her hometown from Buddy—her one time high school sweetheart—for his newborn’s christening gets Mavis to thinking. Maybe this is a sign, a way out of her rut. She could connect with old ties, flaunt her (admittedly dimming) star power, visit mom and dad. Maybe even try to ruin Buddy’s happy marriage with a juvenile sense of righteousness to rekindle old flames.

Hey, who says you can’t go home again?

The Rant…

I had two intros in mind before I began this week’s salvo. One personal and one practical. Sentimental against professional. For reasons that later may or may not seem appropriate for this installment, I’m including both. I’ll let you out there smack Howie upside his chrome dome as to picking which suitcase seems the best bet.

First Intro…

“The only thing that truly ages well with time is nostalgia.”

You can use that. It’s one of my favorite chestnuts. Also, as far as I know, it’s mine. It might’ve been F Scott Fitzgerald’s, but since I was as much of a lush as his legend decrees, we’re probably on even footing.

I’ve learned about—and have fallen victim to—the narcissistic trappings of blogging. It’s understood such websites are given over to jillions of people to get all flowery about their pet project and/or get all foamy and pissed about…well, others’ pet project.

Me? My rambling meditations on meh movies have become perilously close to being a soapbox thinly masked as the other side of the curtain. I am not immune to the Internet-blessed deceit of anonymity. Neither are you. Remember that you with 6000 FaceBook “friends” and your Twitter feed in the millions aren’t exempt. We’re all victim to too much exposure paired with precious little self-examination.

Which is why I quoted myself above all meta-like. Let’s face facts. Nostalgia is narcissistic. I mean, for real, isn’t any and all recollections about, say, your formative years in high school both self-centered and probably a lot more golden than you remembered it? Sure it is, but don’t let a little thing like self-delusion get in the way of how things—and you—were much cooler back in the day.

Oh, quit blowing smoke up my ass—by extension, yours also—and try to change the subject. I can smell hipster faux-irony like a fart in a car. Of course things more likely sucked than shined back in your high school days. Thanks to a little Vaseline on the rosy glasses of memory, blurring the truth ever so slightly, we were all hip in high school. Even if you didn’t run in circles with the cool cliques, there were probably enough mutants in your class to hang with—the typical gangs of misfits, nerds and band geeks—to satisfy one’s desperate social needs. It didn’t matter what you were into (sports, cheerleading, music, video games, abusing yourself in the bathroom ‘round about midnight, etc), you had to find some sort of something to identify with, probably gelling your own identity in the process. You’d end up defining yourself by what you liked, what you were a self-proclaimed expert on, what you hated, what you hated in others and what you hated about your meager high school social scene. The last bit usually accompanied with a quite a few peers in tow who were into ripped jeans, David Lynch movies and an unhealthy fixation with albums by the Cure. Hey, like attracts like.

Naturally being a geek, the cooler kids had it in for you and others of your ilk. I know nowadays with the advent of “geek chic” that being quirky does not automatically guarantee finding one’s head pointed in the wrong direction on the toilet. Millennials might either cringe or outright laugh in disbelief at the notion that the kid with the impeccable GPA who sports an Arcade Fire tee from Hot Topic and has a customized Google Glass with hacked holographic tech would be a target for social lynching. When I was in high school back in the Stone Age 90s, I caught hell merely for my extensive, eclectic music collection, and a good portion of it in classic vinyl dinosaurs. That and being both a Rush and Depeche Mode fan. Black celebration indeed.

Those popular jocks and cheerleaders ruled the school while you and your low-life buddies toiled away in steerage. It’s kind of an open secret nowadays that the kids who were slighted or simply “outsiders” grew up to become generally well-rounded adults. The queen bees and lettermen, anchored to the hierarchy of status and popularity high school provided didn’t fare as well later on. I think this happens due to the nature of cliques; one tends to define oneself within a pecking order. That and mirroring your peers or relying on adoration to prop up self-esteem. Take that away upon graduation, tether cut and you have to “find yourself” in the cold, hard world where you’re just a cog in a grinding machine. It can be jarring, if not crushing to a former “cool kid” to lose that support system. A system that rejected all the loner nerds who fended for themselves, fled home to their basement and their eventual bestselling novel that paid off the student loans for Yale in a mere two years. One could only dream, but look at Bill Gates.

Let me tell you a brief story; an example of stuff like that happening (and it happens all the time). Now the next thing I ramble on about might be looking too deeply into the insidious nature of high school social structure. But since this is my blog and I can play god, I’ll warp the following observations just enough to validate my little sociological analysis here. So as they say, the following story is true, except for the crap I made up.

During my freshman year at Syracuse University, the first semester was more or less and even balance between “finding myself” and just doing my usual thing. Being a nerdy guy in high school—possessing all the benefits that entails—I got on fine at college. I think I actually did better there socially since I was accustomed to hanging with a small group of friends as odd as I. Not to mention my bando buddies, who were like family since we shared a common interest in music. I didn’t have much understanding of a herd mentality, not like I had much say in it. Whatever it was, I fared okay within the social circles at college. It probably helped that I was also a bando again at ol’ SU, which became my new surrogate family.

Fall break came, and my then girlfriend and me went back to my hometown for a little R&R and a chance to do laundry for free. As a lark we went to a football game at my old alma mater that Friday. We sat near the band (naturally) and sure enough, a few of my bando buddies who graduated with me showed up and there were handshakes all around. I introduced my girl and got the kind of silent approval that only guys can detect. From the guys who always knew I wasn’t gay, despite the sh*t I was force-fed by the joker types, they were friendly with her. We naturally asked each other how we were doing. Some of us told how college was treating us. Others who didn’t seek higher education told us about their jobs. One guy was in the Air Force, a mechanic who worked on fighter jets—very cool. It was kinda like a night out drinking, but since we were all too young, Jolt Cola had to do (remember that sh*t? The proto Red Bull. We drank it like blood back in high school. Blech).

It was no big thing. Just “Hey, how’s it goin’?” Not to sound snide (for once), but in only mere months, we had given up on high school; forgotten most of the bullsh*t we endured because now we were too preoccupied with our collegiate/workforce lifestyles. My girlfriend pointed out how much smaller high school football games were compared to the ones at SU. She was in the marching band, too, and us musicians were privileged to end zone seats every game to toot and scream at the players almost every Saturday. My companions agreed—those attending college and also got to see such games on the gridiron—and we laughed like this was years ago, not months. Us, we seasoned weirdoes.

Did I mention this was the first game of the season? High school football’s kind of a big deal in my little burg. It was virtually compulsory for the whole damned town to turn out for the Friday night lights. They rolled up the sidewalks and off to the stadium, lemming-like, the good citizens went. I guess I can’t be too snarky, since I made a bee line also that night. But it was to meet old friends! And share college stories! And show off my new girlfriend with the perky boobs and titian hair thereby proving I could nab a babe despite my Depeche Mode collection (Songs Of Faith And Devotion is a terribly underrated album, BTW)!

So anyway, first game of the season. It wasn’t just me, my well-endowed girlfriend (she had a nice personality, too. I think) and my loner bando buddies who turned out that night. Quite a few former members of the William Allen Senior High marching band showed up too, and not all of them were social outcasts. In fact, most weren’t; band was just another extracurricular feather in their hat of a CV. A clutch of them was “popular kids,” and they made their presence known as free as we pleased.

Let’s not go there. Despite the fact that college was treating me well, and the mid-90s was the dawn of when being awkward was approaching a cachet of hipness, I bore no animosity to these people who alienated and ostracized me so. I had a modicum of self-esteem now, and high school was light-years behind me ever since August. In fact, what nabbed my attention about these folks wasn’t even nabbed by me.

There came a squealing, not unlike the mewling one would hear on the killing floor at the Hatfield factory. My girlfriend elbowed me and pointed. I craned my head around and followed her finger. A trio of girls was screeching and practically collided with one another on the gravel track that circled the perimeter of the football field. I recognized them immediately. You know the kind I’m about to describe—as if I haven’t already—perfect hair, latest fashions, all zero pores and high cheekbones. These were the type of females that tickled my fancy for four years while down in the trenches. What I saw then was less of a get-together like me and my old pals were having and more like the reception the troops received coming home after their second tour in The ‘Nam. There was shrill screaming; crashing embraces and all three linking up to go take a walk down the track. Together. They didn’t even say hi to their fellow, former bandos. But they did speak in large, heady tones usually reserved for the rallies at Nuremburg to one another, as if hoping the others would notice. My girl and I did, but not for my assumed reasons.

My girlfriend asked me, “You know them?”

I shook my head. “…Not really.”

She said, “Y’know, I saw some girls like that when I went back home that weekend for a game. It was like they couldn’t wait to get back to see high school again, right? Some people never grow up.”

True. It wasn’t a disparaging comment, not really. But in my late adolescent mind it got me to thinking, maybe a bit too much (surprise!). Maybe all those “cool” kids were only cool in our geeky minds because how the rest of the rabble viewed them. Such adoration might have fed into a fragile ego/hive-mind that only existed based on others’ perceptions, and therefore appearances must be maintained. Maybe, or just some of those cool kids had really great character and magnetism and confidence we all admired, and didn’t have to resort to some pecking order to reaffirm who the real cock of the walk was. Admit it: a good portion of those popular kids were popular for a reason; they had winning personalities and probably were quite friendly to you in the hall. Truth be told, I knew a few darlings like that. You might have, too.

However, for the sake of my argument, there were a handful of those who were once at the top of the food chain that just didn’t cope well outside the security provided by the high school social circle, and they were likely suspects in the whole high school shunning game. I comment on this because I heard it through the ever-reliable high school bando grapevine—we have a communications system rivaling that of the CIA—that one of those above girls wasn’t doing too well in her school, cut off from her hometown and more or less being on her own for the first time. Another was failing out—not even halfway through the first semester. The third…well, rumor had it that she may or may not have found herself in “the family way,” a term so trite it fits. That’s what I heard. If any or all of those stories were true, little wonder why they fell on each other, reuniting at the classic high school weekend social event: the glorious football game to recapture former glories, strut and preen maybe one last time and be reassured that they were the envy of all the underclassmen. Maybe. Then again, I did say I was probably looking too deeply.

Okay. So now let’s readjust our seat belts and allow RIORI to shuffle its way back from the black corridor of alienation and denial that was high school. Shall we? Also, if you were one o’ dem popular jock/cheerleader types back in the day? I don’t care. We all got the same issues now, regardless of perceived status. And those issues only vary in the context of how it all gets paid in the end.

Second Intro…

There’s this phenomenon I’ve noticed in the past few years—okay, over the past quarter-f*cking-century—that when an esteemed, deserving actor finally wins an Oscar, the quality of their ensuing acting roles precipitously plummets. Here’s an example: Al Pacino. For years he languished in Oscar limbo, never getting the Academy’s credit for a job well done. Not that that really matters. But when Pacino eventually won his apology Oscar for his performance in Scent Of A Woman his following projects followed the laws of diminishing returns. I mean, the last truly decent role Al had was in Donnie Brasco and that was back in 1996. ’96. Almost 20 years ago. With his CV? WTF?

By the way, the whole “apology Oscar” thing? You might be hip to what I’m talking about. It’s the deal when a praiseworthy Hollywood type (an actor, director, best boy, etc) after years of being snubbed by the Academy finally gets their due, even though the recognition should’ve came years earlier, most often for far superior projects. Pacino’s win was an apology; he should’ve gotten his statue back for The Godfather, pt. 2. Or for Dog Day Afternoon. Or for Serpico. Or even for …And Justice For All, for f*ck’s sake.

Nope. Back in 1992? Hoo-ha! Jeez.

Other good examples of apology Oscars are for Denzel Washington, Training Day instead of Malcolm X. Paul Newman; The Color Of Money rather than, say, The Verdict. Even director Martin Scorsese for The Departed (a goddam remake, by the way) instead of GoodFellas or Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or—

You get it.

I’d like to think that when an actor gets their pat on the head, one of two things happen with their career (perhaps both things). First, now that they have some laurels to sit on, they can ford their own path. Pick roles for the fun of it, now having critical legitimacy on their résumé, and not give a sh*t what the Academy may think. I’d also like to believe that’s the route Robert DeNiro took. For decades, he made a name for himself being a heavy, dynamic actor, more so than not for playing characters that oozed cinematic gravitas being hard, tough, world weary (think Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta). He paid his dues. He earned respect and critical acclaim. He got his statues and as he got older, he decided to f*ck around with Ben Stiller and Bradley Cooper. Nothing wrong with that (I only give Bob a pass because, for all his lame comedic roles, he’s still entertaining). I mean, c’mon, after playing young Vito Corleone and Al Capone, you need a few fart jokes. Don’t we all?

The second route is more insidious. It involves complacency. There are few things sadder than a talented person squandering their talents. It’s like when a drunken, desperate F Scott Fitzgerald resorted to writing screenplays on spec, or what happened to a young Edward Furlong and his promising acting career. By either self-destruction or just failing to give a sh*t anymore (e.g.: chasing the paycheck), some really good actors fail to keep replacing their spent filters and start taking roles that won’t necessarily hurt their career, but definitely will make folks question their reputation and might get themselves booted from the artistic role call.

I think Pacino is in that camp, and I don’t care how old he’s gotten. Yeah, yeah. There was an undeniable fire in his roles back in the 70s, but it didn’t really burn out as he got older. Like with Donnie Brasco, the heat was there, but couched in a wiser, older guy who was well acquainted with the persona of, well, an older wiseguy. He played that role on its ear in Brasco, and his signature tension was intact.

Then, The Devil’s Advocate, where he was just spewing fire (almost literally) and it just went downhill from there. Precipitously.

When you’re an actor playing a parody of yourself, vamping on your signature whatever—shove—off that artistic role call. There’s a fine line between giving the audience what they want and giving the audience what they expect. Pacino’s career in the past twenty years has not been about him portraying fiery characters. It’s been about Al playing Al.

I’m of the concern that Charlize Theron might be headed down that path. I’ve been following her career for years, not just because she’s hot. Well, she was a model, after all. I’m not made of stone (beer and sandwiches maybe, but not stone). She got my attention—as well as the Academy’s—for her performance as convicted serial killer Aileen Wournos in Monster, which she got an Oscar for in 2003.

(An aside: for the past decade, if you’re an actor and want to get an Oscar nod—maybe even a win—do a biopic. It worked for Adrien Brody in The Pianist, Jaime Foxx for Ray, Philip S Hoffman for Capote, Forest Whitaker for The Last King Of Scotland, Sean Penn for Milk, Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory Of Everything. And those are just the guys that won, not including nominees, nor the best supporting roles.

(Let’s beat this to death; now the ladies: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry, Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich, Nicole Kidman for The Hours, Reese Witherspoon for Walk The Line, Helen Mirren for The Queen, Marion Cottiliard for La Vie En Rose, Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady…and Charlize Theron for Monster. Again, ignoring the supporting actresses and nominees.

(Hm. It could be the rampant trend of biopics overall, but still. You want a statue? Take this career advice from yours truly. Now start returning my calls. Especially you Charlize.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Theron’s movies.

Right, so Theron commanded my attention with Monster, and not just for her hideous make-up job. Her portrayal of Wuornos was downright scary. Maybe horrifying is a better word. If an actress’, or any thespian’s performance can generate an emotional response strong enough to warrant “horrifying” as the best possible way to describe an audience’s reaction, then said actress did their job. Well. Damn well in Theron’s case. So she got the critical acclaim, the trophy and all that it entails. Like a starring role in Aeon Flux later on. A film based on the video game adaptation of a cartoon adaptation of a comic book.

I’m hoping her choice was done for fun. I’m hoping.

I’m not saying at all that Theron’s acting career since Monster has resembled all-you-can-eat night at the local Sizzler. But it has shown signs fraying at the edges. Hancock, Snow White And The Huntsman, Prometheus—still not sure as to the point of her even being in that movie, except maybe to f*ck Idris Elba—and especially A Million Ways To Die In The Old West send up red flares. Again, I’m hoping all that was in fun. But it gets a fanboy like me to wondering.

So now we have Young Adult. It’s a small film. We’re not exactly in indie territory here—which I have learned to avoid, since it automatically invites the usual Standard chokehold—but smaller films often permit big deal, Academy-accolades-be-damned kind of stars to stretch out a bit. Loosen up. Play “out of character” and have some fun without being overtly fun-seeking. Let’s face it, as an actor it’s a lot easier to “be yourself” without having Big Cinema looking down your gullet for growths when being involved in a “small” picture as opposed to those bug budget travesties listed above (f*ckin’ Prometheus. Gah).

A good example of a “little film”—not necessarily indie—that let a big name actor shine without their usual bombast, let alone have popular opinion further sully their questionable career route—is Al Pacino’s own directorial effort, Chinese Coffee (which I may lacerate in the future) starring Col Frank Slade and the late Jerry “Det Lenny Briscoe” Orbach. It was based on a stage play, very simple, and the film version let Pacino shine as an actor, with all his cinematic gravitas intact if not reaffirmed. It was pretty well directed too, for a neophyte.

His small film—which amazingly slipped under the radar in regards to an actor of his (once unflappable) caliber—was…well, since I implied I might tear it to shreds later on, I’ll let any criticism hang in the air. But Chinese Coffee serves as an example of how a little film can keep the consumerist specter of Hollywood off one’s acting career back. Even if you’re Al Pacino.

Although small, it’s kinda hard to dub such a movie “indie” in the honest sense when the director is a big deal in a film world of big deals. When I dub a film indie, it’s not necessary for it to be obscure to earn that label. When you think about it, Birdman was an indie film and it walked away with the Best Picture Oscar, so let me split hairs, all right? My blog, my rules.

So here comes the inevitable question: which Charlize would surface with Young Adult? Would it be the driven and affecting actress a la Monster or North Country? Or would some hot chick out of Aeon Flux or, well, Prometheus, infect us?

Let’s find out. My scalpel’s quite sharp, I assure you…

The life of a novelist can be considered very glamorous. Making a living being creative, pursuing your muse. Hobnobbing with the intellectual elite. Critical praise. Sometimes your work can earn you a beautiful home, a nice ride and never having to want for anything except the idea for the next big book.

Or it can be a work-a-day slog like it is for young adult hack Mavis Gary (Theron).

She lives in a serviceable, dark and cramped apartment. She drives a road-worn, dinky Mini Cooper. Her desk is a mish-mash of not the Great American Novel in progress, but operator’s manuals dictating how Mavis should churn out the next Waverly Prep teen reader installment—a series coming to an end, no less. The only socializing she has is either with her yappy, little dog or whomever she happens upon on her becoming all too frequent nights out at the bar. To top all of this glamour off, Mavis is a ghostwriter and is never openly given credit for her labors. Mavis tells herself real life isn’t like this.

So when a random e-mail shows up in her inbox inviting her back to her old hometown, she leaps at the chance to get out of her rut. Well, not exactly leaps. “Crawl” is a more apt term. Mavis is initially confused by the invitation. It’s from her old high school sweetheart Buddy (Wilson), wanting Mavis to come back to Mercury, MN for his newborn’s christening. To say this came out of the blue is an understatement, but once it all sinks in, Mavis wastes no time to get the hell out of Dodge. At least back in Mercury her life was uncluttered. She was the queen bee, had lots of friends. Of course this was back in high school, like 20 years ago. No matter. Mavis’ll give the local yokels the what-for about being a big deal author from the big town is all about.

Flaunting her cosmopolitan fame doesn’t quite pan out as well as she thought back in old backwater Mercury. Nothing really changed, and the townsfolk like it that way. So when the prodigal daughter who “made good” comes back home, there’s really not much of a reception waiting. So much for that line of attack.

Mavis does find one soul who remembers her from back in the days of the high school hallways. On one of her bar crawls, she stumbles into Matt (Oswalt), a geeky guy from Mercury High who, although wasn’t exactly friends with Mavis, kept abreast of her career. Y’know, local celebrity and all that. Well, it’s amazing what a few dozen shots can do for one’s self-esteem and confidence level. Approaching last call, a drunken Mavis drags Matt outside to drop some science on him. Sure there’s this party at Buddy’s, but secretly she’s back in town to seduce her old beau away from his tranquil life of domestic bliss. Back in the day, they were the it-couple, and since Mavis’ current life is falling into pieces, a fling with the past might just be the tonic she needs.

Of course, Matt finds this scheme f*cking stupid. Sure, life back in Mercury High might’ve been good to Mavis, but Matt was a victim of bullies and abuse, and knows all too well of its cold, hard life lessons. But his words of caution go unheeded by Mavis, hell bent on recapturing old glories. Mavis bounds ahead, rewriting the Waverly Prep bible. After all, the life of a hack ex-prom queen isn’t very glamorous, but maybe drawing from past, shiny experiences, Mavis can do an about-face with the present.

Maybe not…

I liked this one.

I know I’m blowing my cover by saying this outright. I mean, why bother taking apart Young Adult any further? Because it demands it. There is too much going on in this movie despite the simple plot to just lump it into the camp of, “Uh. It wuz good. Charlize purty. Patton made much giggles. Booze.” It also tickled me for being not only a stinging character study, but also a nostalgia film. Remember what I said in the intro? No, the other one.

Yeah, yeah. Gen X. Blah, blah. I love the NES and John Hughes movies. Shut up. Remember back in The To-Do List installment—the other 90s nostalgia-fest tackled here—where Maggie Carey’s semi-autobiographical movie was awash in the day-glo colors of 1993? That pastiche was a sunny, kinda innocent take on that zeitgeist which was both a parody and love letter to those carefree days pre-World Wide Web. Sure it was fun, but I said that List, with all its ’93 fashions and music and slang had pigeonholed audiences squarely aimed towards that movie. Like other movies of that generational ilk (e.g.: The Big Chill, Sixteen Candles, Wall Street, The Best Years Of Our Lives, etc), List had a very narrow audience in mind. I’d say a good sixty percent of moviegoers were lost on all its gags and pop cultural references. You had to be going to high school in the age of grunge to appreciate List.

Young doesn’t play it that way. Kurt Cobain offing himself needn’t be the end of all civilization for you to appreciate this week’s offering. That and unlike List, Young has a vibe about it one could call “malaise.” It’s a grey film; almost dark comedy, and makes us cringe at our alleged heroine’s motives because we all know her hair-brained schemes, delusions and drinking is going to lead to wreck and ruin. All of it by her own hand to boot.

Also unlike List, Young takes place in 2011, not 1993. Sure, Mavis’ mind might be stuck in the past, and there are plenty of touches in the movie to remind audiences where Mavis’ motivation lies. However these touches are used as melancholy, as we know we can’t go back again—what’s done is done—and you can truly never “recapture your glory days.”

Hold on. It’s not all desperation and depression in Young. Quite the opposite, really. There is reluctant buoyancy to the plot, a warped feeling of optimism that keeps the movie on the sunny side. Even if it’s sunlight flickering through a torn curtain.

Right, so Young is a character study. In this case we have Mavis. Everyone knows or knew someone like Mavis. They’re a former cool kid in high school, once always basking in the adoration of others, which ultimately proves to be their undoing. For four years in their formative days they developed a sense of personal value based on others’ perceptions. Take that away, and, well…one can get a tad unglued.

Theron’s Mavis has become quite unglued. She’s boozy, depressed and rather uncomfortable in her own skin. Theron’s portrayal is stiff throughout the movie, as if she’s wearing a mask and/or holding up a shield. Mavis is also rather fragile, like coming back home might shatter her unless she maintains this false front of success and confidence. It’s forged—resigned—from her bad faith decision to live up to an teenage, early 90s vision of herself. You kinda get the feeling that a big part of accepting Buddy’s invitation—well, that and plotting to undo his marriage—gave Mavis the excuse to head back home and revel in what she “escaped” from, re-bolstering that feeling of control she once had in high school. Then again, she could simply be a stuck-up bitch. Sometimes I delve too deeply.

Theron’s good at quiet desperation. However, it’s Oswalt who nails the “nerd angst” most of else felt and wrung their hands over back in high school. Granted for Oswalt, a self-confessed comic book geek, it’s not much of a stretch. With his self-effacing, schlumpy manner, Oswalt’s Matt quietly walks away with the movie. Now it’s understood that Young’s cast is built upon aging high school stereotypes, but none of them are two-dimensional, even Wilson’s former BMOC-turned-family man. Matt’s adult nerd schtick is not played out as sorry, awkward or any of the typical traits one would immediately identify as dorky. No. In spite of Matt being a loser townie—someone who didn’t “escape” Mercury like Mavis did—he possesses more coolness and is far more grounded than she is, what with all her faux urbane sophistication. Matt keeps popping Mavis’ delusions living inside her head, like some malign Jiminy Cricket. It’s really hard to not identify with, let alone enjoy Matt, and thank God he’s the only one that’s able to puncture Mavis’ self-inflated, broken ego. His drinking practices are more interesting, too. Trust me, I know. And salt before tequila is for softies who like Smirnoff Ice. Or Jolt.

There are also a great deal of details shrouding and shadowing Mavis’ world in Mercury. I know I say, “Damn, there’s lotsa details in this here character study” too damned much with movies like this. This time I ain’t talking about sheets of atmosphere enhancers like a good soundtrack and other pop culture touchstones. Okay, not just that. Here with Young, we’re talking quality over quantity unlike The To-Do List. Mavis’ predicament is brilliantly illustrated during the opening credits. Playing the same high school mixtape (tape!) over and over again. And playing the same Teenage Fanclub song, she and Buddy’s song from back in the day (and what screams alt-rock 90s like Teenage Fanclub?) over and over again. Hell, even the choice of song—”The Concept” from 1991s Bandwagonesque. Right, a little obvious—is spot on. The bar scene where Mavis first meets Matt has the Replacements’ “Achin’ To Be” playing softly in the background, and the pair proceeds to get sh*tfaced. Songs are triggers for memories. In Young, the tunes are applied as a tapestry for Mavis’ struggles, both past and…imagined past.

In addition to the music, there are oodles—subtle oodles—of nods to the 90s, Mavis’ halcyon days. The crisp, new fern bar; such places all the rage when the newest episode of Seinfeld was on everyone’s lips. Stupid hard cider drinks, the kind a delicate, unsophisticated teen palate could tolerate before too much resulted in the dry heaves…after much wet heaves. Even Matt’s collection of toys—er, “collectable figurines”—and his dingy Death To The Pixies tee, all of it buffets Mavis in her mission, resulting in an ever increasing tension of desperation. It eventually invites the question: Is Mavis descending into a character from one of her books? Whatever, but the whole scenario warns of the dangers of living vicariously, especially if it’s through your past self.

A final point about the tapestry. This could be the first time in her career that Theron’s beauty slips into parody. The scenes of her primping, choosing clothes for her “big dates,” tweaking her hair (and I mean “tweaking,” not fixing. Well, maybe “fixing” works, too. I’m not gonna spoil it; you’ll just have to see it) and other pathetic, vainglorious attempts to recapture radiance that’s long since blurred due to drinking and stress grinding cigarettes into Theron’s well-known, possibly self-aware public image. I think the woman is smart enough to know that the “just another pretty face” tag isn’t unfounded, and not just in the face of her Oscar-winning turn in Monster. The whole passive “turnabout as fair play” vibe of Young is as subtle as neon regarding the fallen prom queen template. Mavis’ “upgrades” belie her ever-dwindling returns, and it’s kinda hard to watch at times. However, I again think Theron knew this about approaching her character, as well as regarding her public image. Young provided the opportunity to both put the stereotype through a delicious wringer as well as puncture her own over-emphasized red carpet glory. In other words, she acted as Mavis to let the audience “have a laugh on her.” I know I did. Actually, it was more of a wince dotted with groans and snickers.

The only fault I found with Young was that it’s a bit linear and predictable, in that order. The movie might’ve benefited from more twists and turns, particularly employing Oswalt more often, to offset the straight line to Mavis’ impending undoing. Well, it really isn’t an undoing. Yeah, I know I’m flirting dangerously with spoilers here. Just watch the stupid movie and quit yer bitching.

As for the predictability, it’s a minor carp. We all know that nothing good’s going to come of Mavis’ ploy. Director Reitman butters on the pitfalls and failures and obvious calamity that Mavis’ actions will result. It’s only in one of the closing scenes where Matt’s sister Sandra (played earnestly by Colette Wolfe) where one of many possible conclusions could result for Mavis’ drunken fate. Overall, it’s a fun ride getting to the end though, if only it weren’t obvious. Then again, one could make the argument for it being so obvious, therein lays the fun. I dunno. I’m rather torn about the issue. Oh, well.

Young must be the best high school nerd revenge tale ever. It’s the anti-John Hughes movie. However unlike most stories in his vein, there’s no big climax of the dork standing up to the bullying jock, only an awkward, sad breakdown. This is usually how such confrontations pan out in reality anyway if you think about it. It’s no less satisfying though. Granted Mavis comes from a self-appointed, fleeting sense of entitlement, but at the end of the day—all our days—we all gotta get knocked down a peg sometimes. Even the most spoiled brat needs their comeuppance. But we all do, and if we’ve ever walked in those shoes hopefully we walk away with some humility and a lesson learned. Hopefully, but it seldom really happens. Nice to think, though.

Roles offered like Young did are what Theron needs more often. One doesn’t have to be the terse, determined type to score a role that lands an actor’s talent in the butter zone. Namely, high profile doesn’t require high exposure. Theron’s talented, no question there. All she needs to do to retain any street cred is to cut tracks like this one. Trim the fat and steer clear of what potential Prometheus’ might offer, like head scratching and shrugs and a leaving a yen for serial killers. Not that that’s really a bad thing. I guess.

BTW: no, the buxom girl I spoke of in the first intro did not become my wife. My girl’s of average build, and I find her quite pretty, albeit screechy at times. Also, she’s a bigger Depeche Mode fan than I. She thinks Music For The Masses is a more underrated album than Devotion, though. Then again, I prefer Gang Starr’s Daily Operation to both, so I win.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Duh, rent it. Hey, this ain’t a payback tale like Revenge Of The Nerds. It doesn’t have to be, and it’s more gratifying for it. Forget it’s a Gen X nostalgia tale, too. Age knows no obnoxious jock or cheerleader. Unless you were one. Or still are. Then grow the f*ck up and pay the bills.

Stray Observations…

  • “We have lives.” Chew chew chew.
  • I remember cassettes. Mixes. Cheap. Disposable. Fun. Also unreliable. Fragile. Sucked. Not every piece of nostalgia is sweet. Now CD-Rs on the other hand…
  • “You won best hair!”
  • “Yeah, I might be an alcoholic.” “Very funny.” Right. Thanks, “Mom.”
  • Sue me, but any movie that includes the ‘Mats in its soundtrack (even if from their worst album) will always earn some goodie points from me.
  • “How’s your dick?” “Not good!” “Does it work?” Best. Come-on line. Ever.
  • Theron plays buzzed very well. Something tells me The Method might’ve been employed here.
  • “The rest of us changed. You just got lucky.”
  • That was one very f*cked up intervention.
  • “I’m not a weirdo.”
  • Brilliant move with the ranch dressing. If you didn’t get it, you’re hopeless.
  • “Guys like me are born loving women like you.” Best line in the whole damned movie.

Next Installment…

What do the Civil War, Mars and Walt Disney have in common? Uh, not a lot. But don’t tell John Carter that. Especially the thing about Disney.

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