Review by Anna Bean
The Diablo Cody-Jason Reitman dream team is back with another take on adolescence, but where Juno had its leading lady in a position to grow up too fast, the 37-year-old principal of Young Adult hasn’t yet embraced her adulthood. Mavis, played pitch-perfectly by Charlize Theron, is a Kardashians-watching, Diet-Coke-guzzling ghostwriter who pens Waverly Prep, a fictional young adult book series. Recently divorced and living in a high-rise in Minneapolis with her yippy little dog, Dolce, Mavis medicates her anxiety and depression with a whole lot of Maker’s Mark and some thickly lain cynicism.
When she receives a birth announcement via email from her high school boyfriend and his wife, who still live in the small Minnesota town where they all grew up, she misguidedly decides to take a trip home and rescue him from his domestic drudgery. Still clinging to her bombshell looks and the aloofness that made her so popular in high school, Mavis finds an unlikely confidante in Matt (played by Patton Oswalt!)—a disabled man who was on the opposite end of their teenage social spectrum yet is now similarly stuck in a limiting adolescent mentality.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned for Mavis. Her high school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), is happily married to a comically likeable woman. Awkward turns to painful as Mavis sinks lower and lower, convinced through the lens of her narcissism and addiction that she and Buddy are destined to be together. But somehow, the film is very enjoyable—most likely because it has Cody’s sense of humor and celebration of human shortcomings.
Reitman too makes the film eminently watchable, capturing capitalist Middle America to a T. Chain hotels, KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut 3-in-1s, mall parking lots, and a fluorescent-lit glare all set the stage for Mavis’ repulsion toward her hometown and everyone in it. Though the ending might leave some wanting more closure, this movie definitely warrants a trip out in the cold. [In theaters now.]