The writing-directing tag team that brought us Juno, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, team up again with Charlize Theron for a dark drama with comic accents, Young Adult, which unfortunately doesn't live up to its pedigree and potential.
Theron is a 37-year-old divorcee in Minneapolis who drinks too much, sleeps around, plucks the hair out of her scalp in spots, barely cares for her Pomeranian, and makes her living ghost-writing a young adult series of books set in a high school. The movie's title has a dual meaning that her arrested development makes her able to capture the voice of her characters. It also helps that she always seems to be near teenage girls in time to overhear them say something she can crib for her books.
When she receives an email announcing the birth of a child to an old flame (Patrick Wilson), she obsesses over it until finally deciding to return to her home town of Mercury, MN and rescue him from the horrible life of domesticity she feels he's trapped in. While setting up her plan, she encounters Patton Oswalt, a dumpy guy who had the locker next to hers throughout high school whom she never noticed. Hobbled by a savage beating (more on this later), he quickly becomes her Jiminy Cricket, trying to talk her out of her plan. Of course, she's not listening.
While there are some hints of greatness throughout Young Adult, it simply doesn't gel up into a cohesive whole. Theron is unlikeable, which isn't a problem since she's supposed to be a boozy deluded mess, but her realizations and growth are undercut by Cody's script which seems to forget its points at the end. I thought Reitman's last film, the George Clooney-topped Up In The Air, fell apart in it's last act and ending and something similar happens here with the precisely wrong thing happening and then everything that could've been learned tossed out the window in a single scene in which someone basically tells her that her wrong-headed views were right all along. I honestly had no idea what the movie was trying to say at the end.
Theron is very good, managing to make an unsympathetic character earn our pity. (If you know the difference between sympathy and pity, you'll get the distinction I'm making.) She almost manages to make us overlook the gaps in the plotting like how Wilson seems to act as if they merely dated a short while in high school when it's revealed later that their relationship was much, much more involved. I place blame for this on Reitman who let him play it as if there had been little between them.
I had been enthused about seeing Young Adult because of the players involved, but it shows that past prowess provides little guarantee of future competence. I wonder if the makers have become too big for their britches and aren't being held to the standards of polish that others would (and should) be held to? While not especially bad, it's not particularly good in the final analysis because it manages to undercook the characters. Also, if you hated the Teenage Fanclub song "The Concept", you may want to steer clear of this movie because it gets played about five times and will stick in your head the next day.
Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.
Regarding Oswalt's beating ** SEMI-SPOILERS **: He was supposedly beaten with a crowbar by a pack of jocks because they thought he was gay - this is how Theron remembers him, as the "Hate Crime Guy" - and it was quite the scandal until it was learned that he wasn't gay; then it became a socially acceptable attack of jocks on a fat guy. That she doesn't seem to feel this is anything to whine about despite his walking with a cane and having mutilated junk makes the ending that much more questionable.