Thursday, October 20, 2011

Young Adult (2011)

So last week, I received an email from Landmark with an offer for a "Sneak Peak" of an upcoming movie for Wednesday October 19th at the Edina Theater. But they gave no other information other than it is Rated R and the director would be in attendance and taking questions afterwards. And a hint that it was being released in December and said director is an Academy Award Nominee.

Well the director happened to be Jason Reitman and the screenwriter also came last night, and that happened to be Minnesota's own Diablo Cody. Both probably still best known for 2007's somewhat heralded-still Dramedy Juno.

This new movie Young Adult, that was screened last evening, is the first time Cody and Reitman have worked together I believe since Juno. It stars Charlize Theron, playing a best-selling Young Adult series author living in Minneapolis. "Waverly Prep" being the title of the book series.

Theron's character Mavis Gary, comes from a small rural town called Mercury in Minnesota. I don't believe it refers to a real "Mercury" city in my home state, but it's probably based on a few different towns Cody is familiar with. Some people I met at the movie thought it seemed similar to Northfield. Although in thinking about that, Northfield always struck me as more of a College Town (Carleton and St. Olaf are there of course) than specifically the impression I got from Mercury.

So, early on in the story, Mavis gets word that her ex-boyfriend from High School and into College, who still resides in Mercury with his wife, is now a father of an infant baby girl. Along with her lack of happiness romantically and a failed marriage from her recent past, she decides to head back to Mercury to try and win her now married and new father of an ex-boyfriend back.

She does get together with him, Buddy Slade, whose played by Patrick Wilson, a handful of times in her return to her hometown. And the ways she goes about trying to win his favor are reasonable enough. However, how things end up in the last act kind of led me to wonder why they took so long to bring in, in the first place.

What I mean by that is, she tries to steal her 1st love away, some 2 decades later, and she seems to be the only one actually believing it could work, or it's actually not morally wrong.

Patton Oswalt plays a fat nerd from her High School, whom she never noticed in High School of course, but she ends up encountering time and time again in her return home to Mercury. And he ends up being really the only person who actually cares about her circumstances. He actually is probably the character in this movie you care the most about. And I probably haven't seen him do anything better than he was in this (although I did like him on both Dollhouse and Caprica recently).

But in the Q&A afterwards with Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, most of the questions and answers assumed a couple of things about this movie and Charlize Theron's character Mavis.

-This movie is a "Feel Bad" story.
-Mavis' character is not likable or one you care about.

The first part about it being a "Feel Bad" movie, I guess I didn't quite get that impression. It was more of a realistic character study, like a lot of Cody's characters, from Juno, that I know of. Mavis is real and relate-able in that even with success in one part of your life, such as professionally, having success or happiness in something else like romance, really isn't incredibly easy. And real people get desperate, and even being a bit delusional in how it is unrealistic that an ex-boyfriend would leave his wife and new-born daughter for you.

But, she gave it a shot. Something bugged her about her life, and at least she tried to do something about it, even if her success isn't exactly noticed. I think by the end, she does finally get past some of her unhappiness, but also not leaving any regrets behind about not wondering if she could have recaptured the happiness of her youth.

And with that effort she makes, I don't feel bad for her, I feel good that at least she can move on and get back to trying to find other things or someone else who can make her happier.

I do like how one theme used of Small Town vs. Big City (or Mini-City as Minneapolis is referred to as the "Mini-Apple," although honestly, that term isn't really used all that much here, at least from my experience). The way Mavis is looked-at as the one person from her hometown that *made-it* in the real world. Or *became someone* as they say.

Another theme, which I probably liked a bit more, is the feeling of having success, yet being totally lonely and unhappy in the process. As much as Mavis doesn't care for her town of Mercury anymore, the life she has in Minneapolis is not maybe what she thought it would be like. The ole "be careful what you wish (or hope) for."

That reminded me of, among others, the Johnny Virgil character in Kevin Gilbert's masterpiece The Shaming of the True. The song "Staring Into Nothing"

Here I am again with the bright lights on my face and I am lonely
A thousand screaming voices, screaming out my name and I am lonely
Someone said "Hey Johnny do you still love me?"
I said "Baby don’t you ever use that word around me
‘cause I don’t want to hear it anymore."

I’m not what I seem ‘cause I am not real
Pretending to care, pretending to feel
Here I am again with everything that I could want and I am empty
With the blanket of approval and the slaps upon my back and I am empty
Someone said "Hey Johnny, do you feel happy?"
And I said "I don’t need anybody’s ten cent therapy.
Can’t you see I’m on top of the world."

One or two other points that are worth mentioning, that don't quite add up about Young Adult. Mavis spent a great deal of time flirting with her ex-boyfriend, and yet until the climactic scene towards the end, you really got no impression Buddy or Buddy's wife had much-of if any idea about her intentions. That was not very real to me. But maybe Cody and Reitman wanted that to be subtle, if evident at all until that scene towards the end. And one thing that kind of irked me is how in that scene, nobody sympathized with Mavis there. Not even her parents. That's why when she goes back to Patton Oswalt's character Matt and his admiring sister, they are seemingly the only friends she has left in Mercury.

A couple of other minor things I noticed were, for one, how Mavis has this small dog, a pomeranian I think, that she leaves in her hotel room constantly. It is silly, but also a bit absent-minded. Maybe she doesn't care about her dog enough, or footage shot with her together with her dog, didn't/wouldn't add much to the story (or needed to be cut for time).

Another being, when Mavis does not drive her Mini-Cooper. There were a handful of times the Mini-Cooper was driven and parked and then not accounted for until a few scenes later. One when she leaves the sports bar the 1st evening she meets Buddy, she takes a cab back to her hotel. So, did she pick up her Mini-Cooper at the sports bar the next day? I don't believe it was shown at least. Another being when she drives to Buddy's house in her Mini-Cooper, she parks it in his driveway. Then she leaves with Buddy, in his car, to the Sports-bar (where Buddy's wife is playing in her band that evening); then she goes back to Buddy's house with Buddy, in his car. When they arrive at Buddy's home, her Mini-Cooper is not shown parked in Buddy's driveway anymore.

Also at one point, Mavis drives another car. A Mazda? I forget, but I think it was after she leaves her parents house.

Those are small/minor continuity issues, but still, not hard to notice.

I did notice how Diablo Cody's dialogue and some of the snarky, clever humor from Juno is present in this movie as well. Probably not as much as Juno, but enough to satisfy. That along with seeing a lot of my hometown held my interest. Although, the scenes in Mercury, Minnesota were not shot in a small town here, but I guess in some area of New York (upstate?). Odds are the budget ended up being why, because I think a lot of Juno was shot in St.Cloud. And possibly Cody's last movie, Jennifer's Body as well, as she mentioned she has found a habit of using Minnesota as the location for her screenplays and where they are shot.

All in all, a good movie, but not really one I would anticipate as a Picture-of-the-year. And not likely at Juno's level of lasting memorability. I'll probably remember this movie more for the surprise-screening, especially with Reitman and Cody showing up, more than the movie itself. I suppose both Theron and Oswalt gave praise-worthy performances that stood out. Whether it gets a lot of love between the Golden Globes, SAG's, Spirit Awards or Oscar's, I can't foresee really. But with Cody, Reitman and Theron's names attached to this, I won't be surprised if it does.