In 2007, young director Jason Reitman and first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody teamed up to create whipsmart teen pregnancy comedy Juno. Now their latest collaboration, Young Adult, represents a reunion in more ways than one, as they revisit previous preoccupations (adolescence and parenthood) from the perspective of arrested grown-ups rather than precocious teens.
In her most fearless (and monstrous) performance since 2003′s Monster, Charlize Theron plays 37-year-old Mavis, an aimless, alcoholic Minneapolitan drawn back to smalltown Mercury by news that former high school beau Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has just become a father. Mavis turns to Matt (Patton Oswalt), a crippled geek who like herself has never recovered from his teen years, for help in her unhinged scheme to win Buddy back from his newfound domestic bliss.
The film’s title refers more to the genre of fiction that Mavis ghostwrites for a living than to Mavis herself—who is neither as young nor as adult as she imagines—but Cody’s writing has certainly matured, with the sparky stylisation of Juno giving way to something altogether more cynical and spare. This is a cruelly funny portrait of the scars, both physical and psychological, left by high school experience—and it is pleasingly unusual for a rites-of-passage film in that precisely no lessons are learned, as Mavis’ narcissistic fantasies are allowed to go on, dented but essentially intact.