Director: Jason Reitman
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Mandate Pictures, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films
Early on, Young Adult dials-up the discomfort level up to “11” and holds it steady almost to the end -- bless its sad, nasty, acrid little heart. Directed by Jason Reitman (Up In the Air) from a Diablo Cody (Juno) screenplay, the merry little offender stars Charlize Theron as a boozy, vain, messed-up, unlikeable wreck who ghostwrites a series of young adult books. Sales have bottomed-out, her contract is up once she completes her final book and having already torpedoed her personal life, the aging hot girl accelerates her long, slow suicide by returning to her Minnesota hometown hell-bent on winning back her married high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson).
The results are funny, desperate and cringeworthy; the script is too painfully real not to believe that somebody lived at least a version of this story. Cameron Diaz staked out similar territory earlier in Bad Teacher but here, with sharp, smart, attuned writing and direction, Theron takes a similarly spiky, despicable character and makes her a showstopper. Playing a woman so loathsome she even abusively neglects her only friend, her tiny dog, Theron is astounding. It’s her very best work yet.
Theron plays beautifully off the gifted Patrick Wilson, who plays her quarry with an appealing deer-in-headlights quality, and his loving, irony-free wife (Elizabeth Reaser). But Theron is especially great in her moments with Patton Oswalt, revelatory as the truth spouting, physically broken, sexually conflicted hometown geek around whom she lets down her guard without ever letting up on her bile. That she's able to make her character somehow sympathetic, in the end, only testifies to how good she, and the writing, are. Reitman and Cody's talents are only growing stronger and surer and their prickly Young Adult is wise, knowing and shrewd stuff, played straight no chaser.