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Young Adult

by on March 12, 2012
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“Young Adult” is a masterstroke of restraint by two artists prone to the polar opposite.

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, who previously collaborated on the hugely successful teen pregnancy comedy “Juno,” show a great deal of reserve here, as do the cast members.

Ironically, the film is all about releasing emotion and showing off.

When Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron) teen-lit book series comes to a disappointing halt and she discovers her old beau (Patrick Wilson) has a baby, she returns to her Minnesotan home to refuel. But when she arrives, the glory fumes have faded and the fountain of youth runs dry.

Not only is her old flame burnt out, but the acquaintances she thought were admirers are actually haters — except for Matt (Patton Oswalt). Crippled by jocks in high school, Matt, too, finds his life in a drought and becomes Mavis’ emotional thirst-quencher.

Like Reitman’s last film, “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult” taps into the zeitgeist with laser precision, perfectly capturing this moment’s collective, media-induced nostalgia and celebration of mediocrity. But unlike Reitman’s last effort, this one is much subtler, cuing audiences to the timeliness of the characters’ obsessions by carefully setting bygone music and shows like “Jersey Shore” in the background.

Cody’s typically too-witty-for-its-own-good style takes a backseat as well to accommodate the film’s naturalistic atmosphere. She even pokes fun at herself in a scene wherein Mavis eavesdrops on clever hipsters in the hopes of stealing the kind of dialogue Cody normally writes.

The largest credit for the film’s brilliantly realized world goes to the actors, however. In Theron’s hands, Mavis’ longing is tangible and poignant. And she exudes charisma even when she turns nasty, for she makes it clear that Mavis’ hatred and yearning to connect both stem from the heart.

As Matt, Oswalt gives his best performance to date, bringing extra heft to the role with his similar offscreen persona of an embittered everyman/lovable geek.

And once again, Wilson makes a great straight man in the midst of arrested development and adult angst, as he does in “Hard Candy,” “Little Children,” and “The Switch.”

While the film is a rich, enchanting slice of life, the DVD’s special features leave much to be desired. Reitman does offer some fascinating insights and pre-production details (such as the idea for a soundtrack consisting of nothing but ambient reality television and the notion of Mavis’ ever-smiling Pomeranian being the perfect dog for a self-obsessed, approval-seeking woman like her) in the audio commentary. The deleted scenes are, well, understandably deleted. And the “Deconstructing a Scene” feature is equally superfluous and unenlightening.

But the film far outweighs and redeems its supplements. In terms of a suburban hangout session with relatable, colorful characters, it is on par with “Dazed and Confused” and “Ghost World.”  That is to say it might be a new classic.

Film: 4 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps