Young Adult is written by Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno, and directed by Jason Reitman, whose credits include Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. The film represents a new direction for Cody. Juno was whipsmart and clever, sometimes veering into the Aaron Sorkinland of oh, what I would have liked to have said. Young Adult is much more grounded, and although the protagonist (Charlize Theron) is a prom queen frozen in the time of her glory, Cody does not use her for a series of comebacks and big rhetorical finishes. Which she could have and still have made an entertaining picture. Theron is as she was, returning to her home town to reign once again, and in the process, reclaim her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). But there are no grudges to be fixed or comeuppances to be delivered. The queen is home, but her royalty is largely in her mind, and the kingdom is very ordinary
In Reitman’s hands, as always, the film is assured. It is alternately somber (Theron’s life in Minneapolis and her return to her strip mall dotted home town differ mainly in the fact that in the big city, she lives in a high rise, away from the masses) and awkward (the small town does not welcome Theron’s glamour; sports bars do not accommodate slinky and seductive). Theron and Patton Oswalt (as a crippled high school nerd who runs into Theron during her quest) shine, and their interactions truly show Cody’s maturity as a writer.
One scene in particular comes to mind — they are drinking at a bar, and Oswalt sees some guys playing pool and he moans. I immediately figured, here we go. Old high school tormentors. But now he has the queen in his corner. But instead, a guy wheels over in his wheelchair, a cheery and upbeat disabled townie who Oswalt dislikes for being cheery and upbeat.
The film’s weakness is in tone. Theron is not sympathetic enough, so you hope it will be funnier. Yet, by the end of the movie, you appreciate the restraint.