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Independent Pick: Young Adult (2011)

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When a film bears the name of Jason Reitman as director, there is a certain expectation of quality. It’s not surprising – this is the filmmaker that delivered Labor Day, Up In The Air, Juno, and Thank You For Not Smoking, after all. But his work always keeps us on our toes, as we never know quite what to expect in terms of character. Without fail, Reitman demonstrably holds the script – whether from his pen, or that of somebody else – as paramount, resulting in beautiful character studies led by strong performances.

Young Adult is a deeply underrated example of this. A comedy-drama, written by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody (Juno), it’s the tale of Mavis – a 37 year old divorcee, working as ghost writer of a series of Young Adult novels that is about to be cancelled. On her final deadline, she receives an email from her high school boyfriend, containing a birth announcement and party invitation. He and his wife have recently welcomed their first child and wish nothing more than to celebrate that fact with their nearest and dearest. Mavis – clearly depressed – becomes fixated, decides to attend, and we gradually learn the reality of her situation.

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Academy Award winner Charlize Theron plays the role of Mavis and anchors this film with such a detailed depiction of a woman in pain that, at times, it’s uncomfortable to watch. Her brave performance is worth the time investment, however, as she carefully peels back layers of repression to ultimately reveal the crux of this character’s issue. In her hands, there is no hysteria or scenery-chewing from Mavis – just a woman who is slowly but surely unraveling before our eyes. Focusing on her from the opening scene, we discover that what we are watching is an emotionally disturbed person’s spiral into crisis, as she leaves the manufactured safety of her city apartment and roars back into her tiny hometown – convinced that her former flame needs to be rescued from his life, all the while, desperate to maintain the illusion of success.

The cast is small, but powerful, with brilliant turns from Patrick Wilson as the former boyfriend, and Patton Oswalt as a former classmate. Oswalt, in particular, is a revelation here – delivering a quiet, direct performance as a man left with permanent injuries having been brutally beaten by high school ‘jocks.’ But, this film belongs to Charlize Theron, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody – who take this tale and allow the troubled Mavis to shine in every scene. It is brilliant filmmaking from all involved, and highly recommended.

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