Young Adult follows Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a writer of a young adult book series who returns to her hometown to win back Buddy (Patrick Wilson), her high school sweet heart. Mavis is the kind of person that would leave for a long trip with a one-night stand still sleeping in her bed, name her dog Dolce, and type gibberish on her phone just to look important and busy. And she also doesn't mind that Buddy is now happily married with an infant daughter. She’s the saddest and most delusional character I’ve seen in a while.
The film starts with crying and we quickly see that it’s coming from a reality show on Mavis’ TV. Trashy reality TV shows up in this movie a lot, acting as a kind of supportive beam running through the film’s structure. Self-obsession is definitely a theme here.
This beginning is one of the most mundane I've ever seen, featuring Mavis waking up, feeding her dog, and playing video games. The film in general actually features a lot of banal activities and highlights quite a few fast food restaurants and mega marts. All this seems to set up one of the film's central tenets – our culture can be seriously boring and depressing.
The film's title is spot-on – Mavis begins to regress the moment she hits the road for her hometown. She listens to the same song over and over again on her trip and we learn later that it's a tune that she and Buddy used to make out to (among other things). Granted, Mavis doesn't really need to regress that much, as aspects of her personality show that she never really grew up in the first place. There are a few scenes of her chugging from two liter soda bottles, and it reminded me of Will Ferrell's Buddy from Elf, another character that never really grew up.
Shortly after getting to town Mavis runs into Matt, (Patton Oswalt) a former classmate of hers who was brutally beaten in high school for supposedly being gay. Matt now has physical impairments and walks with a crutch. He's a great mirror for Mavis – his physical limitations reflect her emotional problems perfectly. The two form a friendship of sorts, and Oswalt's scenes are some of the best in the film.
The main reason to see Young Adult is, of course, Charlize Theron. She plays a troubled, depressed, alcoholic perfectly and a scene near the end where Mavis completely unravels is powerful, painfully awkward, and a little funny. Mavis is truly a horrible person, but Theron somehow makes you wish the best for her. The film just kind of struck me as a meditation on the worst parts of life, however, and Theron simply couldn't save it.