Complete A-Z list

Young Adult (AF)


Stars: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt

Director: Jason Reitman

Screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman first worked together on ‘Juno’, the memorably life-enhancing comedy that made stars of its leads Ellen Page and Michael Cera.

Here the tone of their compelling blend of black comedy and drama is essentially bleak. Its central character, potently played by Theron in her best role and best performance since her Oscar-winning work in ‘Monster’, is a recently divorced novelist whose unhappiness is potentiated by the knowledge that her former high school boyfriend in small-town Minnesota is now happily married and has just become a father. Her self-imposed mission takes her, with her small pet dog badly hidden in a bag, back home where she intends to rekindle her life by rekindling her teenage romance…

Theron’s shambolic and fatally flawed personality (one character refers to her as a “psychotic prom queen bitch”) is anything but admirable but, to her considerable credit, she never attempts to play it for sympathy. Her admission, “I have a lot of problems”, turns out to be something of an understatement. Determined to win back her ex, Wilson, she drinks too much, causes havoc at a rock concert featuring Wilson’s drum-playing wife Reaser and, worse still, gets very drunk at the party to name the new infant and ruins the day for Wilson, his wife and their understandably shocked guests…

What helps give “Young Adult’ its fascinating edge, however, is the unlikely but dramatically telling relationship Theron builds with Oswalt who, badly beaten up and crippled at high school for (wrongly) being thought gay, now refers to himself as “The Hate Crime Guy” and works in the local bar. While their slow, ultimately surprising bonding seems improbable on the surface, fine writing, direction and picture-perfect performances bring it vividly and emotionally satisfyingly to life.

The limiting conventions of small-town American life are perceptively brought to life (and fascinatingly delineated by Oswalt’s sister Wolfe) and agreed to by Theron who tells her, “You’re right. This place blows!”

Maybe so: but “Young Adult” (the title comes from the description of the series of novels Theron has been ghosting) most certainly does not. Like ‘Juno’ before it, it rewards a second viewing, if for nothing more than Theron’s superb portrayal. It’s not a one-woman show, however. The casting and playing of even the minor supporting roles is exemplary.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by deluxe.
93 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 29 Jan 2012