A departure for Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno. While Juno was whipsmart and clever, it was often too much so, veering into the Aaron Sorkinland of “oh, what I would have liked to have said.”
Young Adult is more grounded and real. While 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 or for being taken down a peg. Theron is as she was, returning to her home town to reign once more, 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 prior reign is largely in her mind, and the kingdom did not miss her.
In Jason Reitman’s hands, as always, the film is assured, 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 earnest interactions reveal 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.