Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a self-centered, immature, former high school beauty queen and mean girl who still has a malicious streak she wields like a silent blade. Mavis, a young adult fiction writer from a small town in Minnesota should be completely unlikeable. Yet, you can almost admire her single-minded focus on herself except for the fact that it’s probably the basis for much of her unhappiness.

Young Adult is not a warm and fuzzy feel good movie where the central character is gruff on the outside but has a heart of gold on the inside. Mavis does have a heart but it’s a dark, twisted, complicated and human one. Dissatisfied with her mess of a life Mavis travels from Minneapolis back to her hometown of Mercury to reclaim her old boyfriend, Buddy Slade. There’s just one big obstacle in her way—Buddy is married and has a newborn baby. The blank and boring Patrick Wilson, who may be the luckiest man in show business, is well cast here as the appropriately blank and boring, nice, average guy Mavis left behind.

Patton Oswalt is Matt, the ‘nobody’ who had the locker next to Mavis in high school and is maimed for life because of the vicious beating he received at the hands of the jocks. Matt recognizes a kindred, wounded soul in Mavis and the two form a dysfunctional but honest friendship based on acceptance. The best scene in the film is one with no dialogue as Matt registers a look of total understanding and compassion as he watches Mavis grapple with the beginning of the end of her illusions. Charlize Theron has her best role since Monster and she infuses Mavis with a fragility and desperation that counters her alcohol fueled callousness.

What is so original about this movie is that it doesn’t aim to please. I can’t honestly say that it’s enjoyable but what I like about Young Adult is that it has the guts to present a truly flawed, screwed up human being without offering any easy answers. Mavis doesn’t have what Oprah likes to call an “aha” moment that propels her to change her ways by the time the credits roll. This film is too brutally honest to let Mavis and the rest of us off the hook that easily. The reality of everyday life is that people seldom do change despite moments of insight, clarity and the best of intentions.

When Mavis finally has her epiphany there is no hint that she will even attempt to adjust her behavior much less work on achieving any kind of lasting inner transformation. Young Adult forces us to see that we all have a side we don’t like whether we choose to admit it or not, a side we seldom choose to confront.

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