Should the fact that Young Adult ends almost exactly where it begins be considered a fault or a form of narrative integrity? Considering the movie seems to think it’s really taken us somewhere – the story is framed as a journey – I’d argue the former.
Charlize Theron gives an open-wound performance as Mavis Gary, the one-time It Girl of her small Minnesota town who has since moved away to pursue a semi-successful career writing young-adult fiction. She’s also lonely and an alcoholic, however, so when news comes that her high-school boyfriend is now married with a newborn daughter, she heads back home hoping to steal him for herself.
Theron is a wonder, using a half sneer to project her self-disgust onto whoever happens to be standing in front of her. She lays bare Mavis’ many faults without ever making her a monster.
Unfortunately the story – written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman – has no direction. After a series of misguided attempts to woo her former beau (Patrick Wilson), not to mention a complicated reunion with the high-school loser (Patton Oswalt) whose locker used to be next to hers, Mavis leaves town just as bitter, snobbish and deluded as she was when she arrived.
I’m not saying this should have been a redemption story, just that something should have changed in Mavis after this experience (even having her hit rock bottom would have been of more interest). Instead, Young Adult is a narrative treadmill; you get the sense Mavis is still out there somewhere, lonely and lost as when we first met her.