Saturday, January 26, 2013

Young Adult: Not a Comedy, Interesting Psychological Character Piece

Some equivalent to an FDA label needs to be in place for dramedies of the Alexander Payne, Sophia Copolla, or Ed Zwick (his love stories, not his action films), Thomas McCarthy variety (throw the Jennifer Anniston film "The Good Girl" and the Julia Roberts/Susan Sarandon film "Stepmom" onto this pile) to let viewers know that despite the fact that the characters appear quirky in the trailer and Seinfeldesque music is playing in the background, these films ARE NOT comedies.

Now, Jason Reitman films will have to include this warning too.
His first three films, "Thank You for Smoking," "Juno" (a straight-up comedy), and "Up in the Air" balanced comedic moments with heavy themes but they had enough laughter in them not to fall off the wayward end of the dramedy/drama divide. Now watch this trailer and try to guess whether this is a comedy, dramedy or a drama:

If you guessed comedy, you guessed wrong, but at least you're not alone: The Golden Globes also mislabeled the film as well which is especially odd considering they were classified "Up in the Air" in the drama category.

I have not read other reviews so my humor might have differed from a great many moviegoers but I did not laugh once during this film.

At the same time, I became so much more fascinated with this film when I started thinking of all the ways this film could be classified OTHER than a comedy: It has the somber tones of a Thomas McCarthy or Sophia Coppola  films, a mission to exploit shallowness that were characteristic of Douglas Sirk's movies, and the psychological twists of a Hitchcock film ("Spellbound" "The Wrong Man" or in an extreme case "Psycho" are three that come to mind for films driven by a character's psychological state) without the murder plot involved (although the party scene at the end is just as bad).

The film follows Charlize Theron as Mavis. Mavis is an anonymous divorced author on the fringes of fame (she ghostwrote the latter books of a popular children's series), nearly 20 years out of high school in a small town where no one's made it big except her. She decides to travel back to her hometown after receiving an e-mail from an ex-boyfriend that he's just had a baby. Annoyed that he decided to rub it in her face, she sees it as a disparate cry for help and that she's going to try to win her back. It's clear that she's a little full of herself and that she still carries that air of superiority when she goes to visit her old town but greater hints of depression or something more turn into full-on perspective-altering revelations. Add psychologically trippy symbolically rich to the list of attributes to file this film under.

If there's one disappointment, the forgettable Patrick Wilson continues his streak of doing absolutely nothing for me by being pretty much a blank here too as Mavis' ex Buddy. It might be for the better as it fits the story more appropriately: Mavis is too narcissistic to see Buddy as a means to her own ends. It's a credit to Theron (who is already widely acknowledged to be brilliant since winning an Oscar and being nominated again) that Mavis can even come off as sincere and give a one-sided relationship such inherent chemistry.

Far more interesting is Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, who hasn't shaken off the loserdom he earned in high school. He is remembered by Mavis and has also defined himself as "The Hate Crime guy." He was physically beaten for being gay (a "crime" for which he wasn't even guilty) and still has a damaged penis and walks around in a cane. He approaches Mavis at a bar and she acknowledges his presence but the old nerd-beauty power dynamic is firmly in place. It's very clear from the first scene that she's only marginally interested in him. You start to question whether he's even being pathetic by talking to her in the first place. But Matt, at the very least, won't demean himself by going along with Mavis's fantasy that she can break up Buddy's marriage and that's when things get interesting. That's also the first scene. What follows is a very interesting relationship between the two that quietly illuminates the main plot of a very interesting movie.

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