Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody sure have grown up since making the indie smash "Juno."
The duo re-team for "Young Adult," and while it's only been four years since "Juno" struck sleeper movie gold, it's clear the filmmakers used that time wisely.
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"Young Adult" lacks the preciousness that nearly derailed "Juno," and the movie spotlights a lead character you'd rather slug than give a tender embrace. That smacks of both confidence and daring, but Reitman and Cody can't deliver a third act worthy of their otherwise biting dark comedy.
Charlize Theron is Mavis, a former prop queen and young adult fiction writer who long ago fled her small-small town for life in the Twin Cities. When Mavis learns her old beau Buddy (Patrick Wilson) just became a father, she snaps. She returns home determined to win him back, not caring that he's already married and a new pappy.
Why? We're not sure at first, and frankly Cody's script isn't willing to fill in all the blanks.
Mavis quickly insinuates herself back into Buddy's life. He's oblivious to her plans, part of his aw shucks appeal that likely lured Mavis to him back in the proverbial day. Even Buddy's wife (Elizabeth Reaser) doesn't feel threatened by Mavis's return.
Wrong move. Mavis is like a shark swimming in bloody water, and she won't stop until Buddy is hers once more.
Mavis confesses her plans to a former high school classmate named Matt (comedian Patton Oswalt), a physically challenged nerd simultaneously repelled and attracted by Mavis' company.
Both Theron and Oswalt deliver performances that should have Oscar voters checking their ballots twice in good Santa Claus fashion. Theron proved she could go ugly in "Monster," but there's something even worse about a woman who seems to have it all but is hell bent on taking everything from a happily married man.
Mavis ends up melting down at the worst possible time, and it's here where a redemptive arc - or something critical - seems in order. But "Young Adult" grinds to an abrupt halt longer before any bigger purpose becomes clear.
Dark comedies are the trickiest to pull off, and it's clear Reitman and Cody nearly achieved their goal with "Young Adult." Maybe a little more growing up is in order between the talented pair.