Friday, December 23, 2011

Opening Scenes: ‘Young Adult’

By Chip Schrader
Staff Movie Critic
“Young Adult” begins with an aerial shot of Minneapolis followed by a shot of a multilevel tenement building scaling up. Inside lays a woman face down on her bed with the television still on. She rolls out of bed to drink diet soda out of the bottle. When she sits down to her computer, a Word document is up with only “Chapter 1” written. Meanwhile, her agent left a message asking for the first draft of her book. She writes one sentence then opens an email that announces the birth of a baby. This baby’s picture will haunt her for the next several scenes.
The woman faced down is “Mavis Gary” played by Charlize Theron in another role where she forgoes her off screen glamour for the role of an aging woman who made it big. Making it big in Mercury, Minnesota, her hometown, is ghostwriting novels for a popular series. When she returns home from “the Mini-Apple,” Mavis’ intentions for a married ex, who recently became a father, begin to unravel in an unsavory plot.
The scene stealing Matt Freehauf is played by King of Queens alum Patton Oswalt. Throughout the film, Freehauf, a disabled former classmate of Mavis’, portrays the voice of a conscience that she seems so deeply lacking. Physically mangled from a high school bullying incident that earned him the nickname “hate crime guy,” he holds an inner morality that equals Mavis external beauty as her inner flaws prove beyond damaged and more toward grotesque.
The biting chemistry between these two actors provides most of the comic relief from the otherwise morally destitute theme of her journey. Diablo Cody, the award-winning “Juno” screenwriter, creates another successful and memorable story for indie filmgoers with this pseudo-indie release. Cody’s use of dialog in “Young Adult” has matured from frequent word plays and zingers to more realistic and meaningful exchanges between characters with the occasional one liner to spice it up.
While there are plenty of opportunities for dramatic highs and lows, there is a great deal of restraint in the acting and the writing. It is debatable whether this increases the quality of the film, or is detrimental to the development of the film and its characters. The deepest flaw in the writing might stem from the point that, although most movies have heroes and villains, this film seems like an act of revenge Cody has plotted against an old foe. Thus, Cody breaks the writer’s rule of never judging the characters, but rules are meant to be broken in art.
Bottom line: Director Jason Reitman masterfully shoots this subdued character based drama with fast paced cross shots, like close-ups of a cassette tape playing cut by Mavis driving across the state. These fast-paced sequences are followed by hypnotic and gritty documentary style shots to give the film the feel of classic Scorsese updated with a hip, shabby chic aesthetic. The acting all the way from extras to leads is spot on, but “Young Adult” is more cutting, serious and subdued than the ads would have viewers believe, which is a disservice to its achievements and target audience expectations. 4 out of 5. (Courtesy movie poster image)