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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Young Adult

Happy Sunday everyone. I hope the summer season has fared well with you all thus far. It sure has for me, but then again it is too soon to tell. In case you were not already aware, I am at a student age, therefore the surreal feeling of yet another year being over still looms above my dome. Next year marks my final year at my educational institute (glittery word meaning "school") and I could not be more anxious. Is this what most of you felt with the clock ticking so fast? One moment, you're just entering the system as a student, and the next you're--well, you know. I shall soon be one of you! An adult, that is. And that's adult, with a stress on the first 'a'. Anyway, wow. That's all I can say for now.

The following post will scrutinize a film I have already seen and quite possibly discussed before. There will not be much scrutiny rather an excessive amount of flattery and repetitive exclamations of admiration. The masterpiece in question is Jason Reitman's Young Adult, and he has the immense privilege of being its remarkable director. In the past, he has attached himself to similarly mellow-yet-serious films such as Up In The Air, Juno, and (from what I have recently discovered) the sharply written and finely directed Thank You For Smoking. Evidently, he is the son of famed director-producer-writer Ivan Reitman, who contributed to a variety of films including but not limited to Ghostbusters and Twins. Although they share relations (odd way of saying they're father and son), they could not be more different as directors. The father helms goofy yet heartwarming comedies that have acquired the nostalgic genre "nineties comedy"; the son directs darkly amusing dramedies that have at their center a deeply disturbed character. The level of their instability varies, of course, and they are the sorts of mental illnesses that everyday people suffer, such as stress or mid-life crises. Previously, Jason Reitman has explored the taboo topic of teen pregnancy in Juno, which was written by the brilliant Diablo Cody who also penned the film in question, and the achingly prevalent issue of lay-offs and a bad economy in Up In The Air. Each film, additionally, had a charming realness, coordinated by the great script as well as fine direction, that gave its respective key character character. Whether it was bringing to life the typical I-don't-care pregnant-teenager--with the fuck-the-world mentality and all--or presenting a suave yet self-deteriorating man whom everyone despise (because he's the messenger who delivers the lay-off), Jason Reitman, with the help of the writer, develops the nucleus of the film that is the remarkable character. Those characters pale in comparison to the cinematic gem that is Mavis Gary, a thirtysomething alcoholic author who spirals through a major misconception of reality.

Mavis Gary is one of those conceited, callous prom-queen-bitches who many are, no doubt, familiar with. This is what the script tells us and what the film supports. In addition to an ugly personality, she is suffering a considerable lack of self-awareness, and this imbalance is portrayed with the utmost superciliousness by the flawless Charlize Theron. From the moment she locks eyes with the audience (as much as she can as to not look directly into the camera), she enraptures you with her unbelievable bravado and blatant lack of decency. Her contemptuous scowl is raw enough to make you shiver in her presence, as if she were genuinely judging you. Keep in mind that no matter how shitfaced Mavis will get (and there are more than a few accounts), and no matter how low she will fall in terms of desperation, you will feel inferior to her deep within because, like it or not, she is inherently better than you. Not because she is more successful, because she clearly isn't, but because she makes you feel that way with her supercilious manner and overall confidence. Throughout the film, she carries herself with cavalier predominance--just like she did in high school, I'm sure--and views her world and those around her with contempt. Despite her tainted reputation, she still considers herself the queen of her dinky little hometown, and even declares herself supreme in the pseudo-climax that is hard to watch (in a good way). I say pseudo-climax because the movie, as a whole, just flows with no solid framework other than the basic beginning and end; also, not every movie needs a adrenaline-rush of a climax. There are movies that just flow. Like this one.
Anyway, Mavis Gary. She is the sort of antiheroine that you find so irresistible that you force yourself not to like her--and you fail miserably. At least, I do. I absolutely love Mavis Gary, and how Charlize Theron portrays her. If she were not such a delusional, self-destructive person, I'd aspire to be her. That sounds awful, especially if you've seen the movie. But I can't resist, for she is awe-inspiringly audacious. As she writes the final book in a failing young-adult series, it's as if she narrates her own situation: She describes the cavalier psyche of a smug teenage girl, who is as conceited and lacking a grasp on reality as Mavis herself. After humiliating herself (repeatedly) in front of former classmates who once worshipped and/or hated her, Mavis Gary continues to carry herself with an unaltered delusion that she is It. The manner in which Charlize Theron portrays her character's ego is one where she does not overtly admire herself in the mirror or even outright say that she is better than everyone (well she does maybe once or twice). She moves with a self-important yet indifferent lack-of grace that suggests she is above her hometown and everyone in it. Whenever she primps herself for an outing, however, she makes it a strenuous process to make herself look amazing. In these scenes, she usually narrates her book, which provides pleasing mirror imagery; as she frets over her appearance (without actually fretting, because she's naturally gorgeous), the analogous story of her young-adult series protagonist unfolds. To simplify it, I suppose, thirtysomething Mavis Gary is blissfully stuck in high school, and it's all due to the unsatisfying result of her failed life since then. What I also love about the way Mavis was written is that she never completely loses her mind in a dramatic scene where she, perhaps, needs to be restrained. As abhorrent as she is as a person, she never "blossoms" into a monster or home-wrecker. She is depicted as a realistically callous individual and played with flawless conceit and insolence by the incredibly talented Charlize Theron.

Aside from Charlize Theron, there is an abundance to be in awe of in regards to the film. The story itself surrounds Mavis Gary as she strives to steal back her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade, who is married with a newborn daughter. Patrick Wilson plays this steamy hunk who may have been all-that in high school, maybe even the prom-king-quarterback multi-threat idol of every girl's dreams; but now, he's a schlubby father and husband. He moves around like a ghost in the film, unaware of Mavis's blatant flirtations. I wouldn't be surprised if he were not aware that he was a father, but that's just how he was portrayed, I suppose. If he showed any perceivable emotion, the viewer may mistake that for restrained lust for his former high school flame. (Yet another intricate detail perfected by writer Diablo Cody.) Surely, you will question why Mavis returned to her hometown to reclaim this former-prom-king who had lost that certain charisma desirable to women. That answer lies in the downward spiral of Mavis's life: Her marriage collapsed, her career is plummeting, and she's become an alcoholic. So, she figures she revisit the past where she was the queen bee, adored and loathed by all. If the tables were turned, however, and Buddy went to Minneapolis to rekindle their relationship, Mavis would not even blink in reaction--because she's better than him and the dinky hometown he represents. It's all a matter of perspective and circumstances, and the age-old "virtue" of wanting what you can't possibly have.

During her visit, Mavis encounters Matt Freehauf, a typical "loser" in high school and therefore in life after that. Senior year, he was attacked by several jocks who thought he was gay, and he was crippled for the rest of his life; it was considered a hate-crime until he revealed that he, shamefully, was not gay. Isn't that ridiculous? Just because he did not satisfy speculation that he was among the popular breed of homosexuals, he was forgotten and labeled a "fat guy who got beat up". I'm just saying, brutal assault is brutal whether you're a minority or not. Moving on. Mavis, of course, does not remember Matt from high school because (duh) she was popular and he wasn't. They moved in different crowds, to put a sugar coat on it, yet that changes twenty years later when Matt is the one person who "understand" Mavis and her machinations. I quote "understand" because Mavis is not one to be understood or not, but one to be, shall we say, sympathized with? Alright then. Patton Oswalt, an actor who I ordinarily find repulsive, portrays the crippled Matt Freehauf with a palpable realness that does not warrant pity from the audience. Not once does he trip over his crutch, or require assistance of any kind. He is just a man with the unfortunate physical and mental trauma of an incident. Oddly enough, Patton Oswalt was enormously likable in the film, as both a character to feel sorry for by choice and as a surprisingly superb actor. In a film like this, acting does not demand histrionics or hysterics, rather the performance must be natural and, most importantly, mellow. Of course, inherent talent would certainly be lovely in accentuating the performance. I guess that implies Patton Oswalt has talent.
He and Charlize Theron, moreover, have agreeable chemistry, interestingly enough, though it is not romantic, nor is it indicated that they are amorous soulmates. (The awkward scene at the end may suggest otherwise, but please do not mistake that for anything other than the culmination of Mavis's desperation.) Matt represents a sort-of haven for Mavis Gary after a long day of delusional debauchery, where she and Matt get drunk off of his homemade bourbon. With his own glaring flaws, such as dwelling on the past and being unable to enjoy life, he is a perfect fit for Mavis. The two are an odd couple, indeed, the kind of twisted pairing made most refreshing by the brilliance of the script, directing, and actors.

Watching this movie was delightful the first time, and absolutely glorious when it encore presentation came around. My dad and I each noticed many additional features in the film that make it all the more gratifying. The way the fictional small town of Mercury, Minnesota is depicted, for example, is very keen on its demonstration of a typical dinky place that city-folk would detest. It resembles my own dinky small town, actually, with the scattered plazas and KenTacoHuts spread throughout. One image, captured by the astute eye of my father, is Mavis walking through the parking lot of Macy's, which is practically barren. This so accurately illustrates a small town, and it is this brief moment on the screen that validates the combined craft of the writer (who incorporated this image) and the director (who brought the scene to life). That may seem inconsequential to most, but to true connoisseurs of cinema, is is very much appreciated and noted as sheer mastery. Young Adult captures the undeniable longing for the golden era of one's life--whether it is childhood, high school, or beyond--and the painful delusion people are trapped in to recreate those good 'ol days. Mavis Gary embodies this prospect with disdainful pretension and, as beautifully portrayed by Charlize Theron, who was regrettably snubbed by the Academy, biting cruelty. I feel like I'm repeating myself. Then again, I did warn you that I quite possibly would. Although deemed an "indie movie", this is anything but. Sure, it has that indie feel to it, but this is much more than that. This could be argued to have a place among extraordinary pictures like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, for it dwells upon the central theme of the film with sheer intimacy and attention to minute details. Young Adult has the pristine quality of near-perfection, captivating its audience with seemingly meaningless elements that are anything but. A

P.S. I'll be doing the letter-grade thing.

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