Young Adult

Fri, Feb 3, 2012, 00:00

Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Colette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Hettienne Park, JK Simmons 15A cert. general release, 94 min

Juno’s director and writer return with a mildly diverting study of small-town 30-somethings stuck in a rut, writes TARA BRADY

MAVIS GARY (Charlize Theron) is stuck in a rut. The ghostwriter of the hit Waverly Prepbooks is under pressure to deliver the final book in the young-adult series, but is occupied with cheap white wine and late-night carbs.

An email announcing that the wife of Mavis’s old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has given birth to a new daughter provides a distraction. Convinced that Buddy has made a terrible mistake, Mavis drives to the small town where she and Buddy grew up. Former make-out music from Teenage Fanclub plays on a loop as she goes.

Buddy is, of course, delighted to see his old chum for a drink and brings her home to meet his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). Mavis is less than thrilled to discover that the poignantly plain Beth, the drummer in an excruciating mom rock band, is warm, welcoming and only slightly less immature than she is. Bloodied but unbowed, Mavis retreats to a local bar, where she conspires with former gay-bashing victim Matt (Patton Oswalt, terrific) to “rescue” Buddy. Harebrained schemes and mortifications ensue.

It’s been four years since Juno– a perfect storm percolated between star Ellen Page, stripper-turned- author Diablo Cody and directing tyro Jason Reitman – enlivened cinemas and award ceremonies. Sadly, four years is a long time in the movieverse; four years, indeed, is all it took for The Matrixto become The Matrix Reloaded.

When Junopremiered in 2007, Reitman, a kid who grew up around his father Ivan’s movie sets, had already successfully set out his stall with the dryly humorous Big Tobacco satire Thank You for Smoking. Juno, however, seemed to earmark Reitman for bigger and better things. Pundits and commentators dutifully reached for words such as “auteur” and “Cassavetes”.

Cody simultaneously became the talk of the town. The one-time pole-dancing blogger was quickly snapped up by Steven Spielberg to write and develop a TV dramedy ( United States of Tara), and she took home the Oscar for best original screenplay. She was sensational enough, in fact, to warrant a trashing on Family Guy.

Still, an indifferent interim period has left both these parties in some need of a hit. Reitman’s last film, Up in the Air,earned some good notices but failed to attract good business. Over in the Cody camp, United States of Tarawas axed after three dwindling seasons last spring. Her lively, much-touted screenplay for Jennifer’s Bodymade for a mangled film and was further scuppered by an especially dreary Amanda Seyfried performance.

Young Adult, at the least, brings Cody’s uniquely bitchy voice back to the big screen. The film is both a thematic sequel and an about turn: where Junodemonstrates that even knocked up teenagers can be smart and sassy, Young Adultnotes that grown-ups can be awfully dumb.

Viewers expecting What Juno Did Nextwill not be disappointed with Theron’s 30-something loser. Her compelling depiction of a self-absorbed, dog-abusing wagon makes for terrifically dour comedy.

At first glance, only contented and upstanding citizens populate Mavis’s hometown. But look closer and she’s not alone in her young adult world; she’s merely an extreme manifestation of the childishness that seems to define every character. Matt collects Star Warsaction figures; Beth goes out for “girls’ nights”; Buddy gets excited that a Chipotle is coming to the mall.

It takes a good deal of runny mascara and bad posture for Theron to convince as an ice-cream swilling ne’er-do-well. She puts on a good show, and yet the film lacks gravitas. For all its dark themes and implications, Y oung Adultsimply doesn’t have enough material to power a feature-length film.

Typical. You just can’t count on those 30-somethings to do anything right.