Two films this decade have combined the talents of director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody, and star Charlize Theron. Both have given Theron, who won a deserved Oscar 15 years ago for Monster another opportunity to step out of action heroine mode. That’s where she’s resided a lot recently and Reitman’s camera and Cody’s words have given her a chance to stretch.
Young Adult from 2011 is more rough around the edges, more uncomfortable, and ultimately more memorable. Theron is Mavis, who spends a little time ghost writing YA novels and the rest of her life in an aimless haze of alcohol and unreachable fantasy. She grew up in the small town of Mercury, Minnesota and moved on up to Minneapolis. When Mavis receives an email announcing the arrival of her high school sweetheart’s baby, it triggers a road trip. Her heart is set on getting Buddy (Patrick Wilson) back. Mavis seems blissfully (and often drunkenly) oblivious that his Buddy’s wife (Elizabeth Reaser) is a pretty cool mom, special ed instructor, and part-time band drummer.
Patton Oswalt’s Matt becomes Mavis’s drinking buddy and earpiece to her plans. Matt was badly assaulted in school in a sort of hate crime. They form a sad and occasionally sweet partnership accentuated by two fine performers playing them.
The title of this picture doesn’t only apply to the genre of novels that Mavis authors. She may be 37, but her mind is stuck in two decades old reversal. You may hear her bragging about leaving her small town roots, but she’s never fully escaped those prom queen days. Cody deserves kudos for making the central character a complicated one. You’ll cringe at her and sympathize with her moments later.
Tully from the spring of this year finds Theron in a different mode. She’s Marlo, a frazzled mother of two youngsters (one of whom has special needs). She’s extremely pregnant with a third when we meet her. While Mavis was the small town gal who made it out, Marlo made it to New York City in her youth and returned to the burbs. She finds her existence mundane with her little ones and slightly dull hubby (Ron Livingston). Her well off brother offers to foot the bill for a night nanny with the hope of restoring some balance to her long days and sleep deprived evenings.
This is when the free-spirited Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives. She doesn’t just help out with the new infant, but provides a sounding board to Marlo’s issues. Theron’s character here is more sympathetic while still maintaining some of the quirks (a word that gets some humorous play here) that we expect from Cody’s writing.
Theron’s award winning turn in Monster found her shedding her outward beauty. You find that in both projects here to varying degrees. Tully is more deliberate in its pacing and an act three revelation doesn’t feel as profound as it wants to be. It’s still worth your time for Theron’s work and some incisive commentary about the joys and sorrows of parenthood.
Young Adult is a bit more brave in its script and overall execution. You may not have any clue how Mavis will end up in life when the credits roll, but the time spent with her is even more rewarding on a cinematic level.
***1/2 (out of four)
*** (out of four)