Posted by: gdevi | June 18, 2012

Movie Review: Young Adult (2011)

When I saw the first Twilight movie, I did so without knowing that it was part of the genre called Young Adult fiction. I liked the first Twilight movie and  thought it was interesting conceptually and visually, but its sequels are some of the dumbest movies that I have ever seen.  Compared to the second and third Twilight movies, the High School Musicals merely look stupid, while the Twilight series comes across as a sinister ideology all by itself, an ideology that might be seductive to teenage girls. I thought the third Twilight movie was appalling.  The first half of the movie portrays the wedding planning of the teen Bella to the vampire boyfriend Edward–it is like an emotionally overwrought Martha Stewart show–the dress, the shoes, the flowers, the mothers, the fathers, the hugs, the tears; that is right, sell marriage to teenage girls as the ultimate fantasy goal for their lives.  The second half of the movie following this nauseating wedding showpiece shows a teenage girl getting battered black and blue on her wedding night when she has sex with a vampire–vampire sex apparently involves the entire room getting dilapidated, the bed broken into pieces, the ceiling caving in, everything broken and battered, including the girl. The sinister ideology continues with the sensitive vampire telling the girl that they should never have sex again, because he does not want to hurt her anymore–she is completely black and blue one day into her marriage. He also does not want to have sex, because god forbid, what if she gets pregnant, because that is a very likely possibility when you have sex; it is not easy for a human girl to carry a vampire’s child.  They had obviously not thought of any of this when they got married. The sinister ideology of the Twilight series then makes the girl turn into the sexual aggressor–the male/ vampire is disinterested in sex while the female human is pushing for sex–with the predictable end that the female human gets impregnated with the male vampire’s child.  So in the first hour of the movie we see a teenage girl getting married while still in high school, then battered black and blue on her wedding night with highly violent sex, then the same teenage girl asking for more violent sex while the man backs away, the teenage girl feeling worthless without this violent sexual contact with her husband, then the same girl getting pregnant one week into her marriage, followed with the most ugly and disturbing pregnancy that eventually kills the teenage girl only to be rescued back from death by the vampire and the werewolf and all the rest of them.  What is completely disgusting though are the concluding elements of the plot; we see the child born of this pregnancy, a baby girl, growing up in a bizarre montage into a young girl–Twilight sequel Four? –who has been “marked” by one of the werewolf friends of the parents to be his “mate.”  Really, a twenty-something vampire or werewolf or human or whatever species looks at a newborn baby girl and sees her as your potential mate?  Really? I remember sitting in that theater with my daughter and her friends and thinking, what the heck? What the holy heck is this? What kind of messed-up messages is this movie sending to teenage girls? I wish they would discontinue or eliminate this entire franchise.  All thinking people should avoid any more sequels of this franchise like poison.

So anyway, Jason Reitman’s incredibly wonderful movie Young Adult is a penetrating character study of the female characters and fan audience of movies like Twilight, women whose lives revolve around men and sex, women who have biologically aged but remain teenagers/ young adults in their mental development, women who have nothing in their lives other than their looks, and for whom happiness is defined by their need to be loved and wanted by men, women who live in a fantasy world of their own making.  Charlize Theron is just splendid as the thirty-seven year old Mavis Gary, who calls herself a Young Adult author though she merely ghostwrites the novels under someone else’s name; the series is failing and she is on her last ghostwriting job.  Mavis is from a small Minnesotan town, Mercury, but has long left her hometown for the big city thrill of Minneapolis, or Minneapple, as apparently native Minnesotans call the twin cities.  Mavis was voted the most popular, the most beautiful girl in her high school, was voted the one with the “best hair,” and she considers Mercury a boring place to be. Dark comedy works wonderfully as the idiom to tell Mavis’s story; she lives in a dirty apartment with a dog, and every time we see her sleep, she does so with her face down on her bed like a sack of potatoes dropped from some height, legs sprawled, face plunged into the pillow. She goes to the refrigerator first thing in the morning to drink from one of those three litre Coke bottles.  She also drinks a lot; she is an alcoholic. The plot is set in motion when she receives a group email announcement about the birth of a babygirl to her ex-boyfriend and his wife back in Mercury, Minnesota. She had dated Buddy Slater, wonderfully acted by Patrick Wilson back in high school for four years, before moving on to other men and eventually marrying one of them from whom she is divorced.  Mavis conceives a plan to go to Mercury to get Buddy back; as she tells herself, they have a lot of history and she is convinced that they are meant to be together. She got an email about the birth of his child, didn’t she?

Diablo Cody’s script is so good that you would not want to miss a minute of this movie’s dialog. The point of view from which this movie is told is completely from the outside of the story, so we can see clearly how completely messed-up Mavis truly is. Her obsessive decision to destroy Buddy Slater’s life is first suggested in the wonderful sequence of her drive from Minneapolis to Mercury. She puts one of the cassettes that Buddy had made for her back in high school when they were dating and listens to Teenage Fan Club’s song “The Concept” again and again, rewinding it over and over, stuck in the fantasy that she is recreating, and which she intends to make come true.  The outsider’s perspective is carried by the comedian Patton Oswalt’s great character of Matt Freehauf, another old high school classmate, who sees her at a bar; Mercury is a small town. Matt tries to tell Mavis that Buddy is happily married and that he is a new father, and tries to dissuade Mavis from pursuing Buddy.  Nonsense, babies are boring, Mavis tells Matt. Besides, the fact that I got that email after all these years means that we are meant to be together.

This movie beautifully shows the various ways in which human beings deal with their pasts. Mavis’s self-absorbed and narcissistic personality fixates on an aspect of her past–her relationship with Buddy Slater–in a manner that categorically shuts out the reality of the present, both her present and that of Buddy Slater’s.  Matt Freehauf is another character struggling with his past as well; he was the victim of a violent hate-crime in high school. The high school jocks had severely assaulted him thinking that he was gay; as he tells Mavis, he was “merely fat.” Now he walks with a crutch and is partially disabled, lives with his sister, collects action figures,  makes bourbon in the garage, and pretty much keeps to himself.  Matt’s daily awareness of his past–in the form of his crutch–is very different from Mavis’s pathological fixation that Buddy and she are meant to be together, despite the fact that Buddy has moved on and is happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), a special education teacher, and a drummer in an all mom’s band called “Nipple Confusion,” which plays the local clubs and hotels. The scenes with Mavis, Buddy and Beth are excellent. Mavis’s insecure feeling of territoriality and anger when Beth plays the Teenage Fan Club song — it is no longer “their song” as she had imagined it to be contrasts with Beth’s complete welcoming of Mavis, and the loving, happy and comfortable relationship between Buddy and Beth. Befitting her beauty queen past, each time she goes to meet Buddy and Beth, she spends a lot of time grooming herself, and her conversations with Buddy when Beth is not around is to remind him of the times they “made out,” the various sexual acts she did for him etc. Wilson plays Buddy with the confused air of a good and kind man who does not know quite what to  make of these distasteful overtures.

The dark comedic tenor of the movie takes a decisive turn for just darkness in the finale of the movie when Mavis creates a public scene in front of Buddy’s family and friends at the baby’s naming ceremony. Completely drunk and believing herself to be more beautiful and attractive than Beth, and convincing herself that Buddy still has feelings for her she attempts to kiss Buddy only to be warded off in no uncertain terms by Buddy.  Charlize Theron plays these final scenes of Mavis’s drunken public tantrum spectacularly; we feel sorry as well as repelled by these outbursts.  The comedic turn returns in the conversation Mavis has with Matt’s sister Sandra, who once again reassures Mavis that she is more beautiful than Beth, and that Mercury is a “stupid town” with “dumb people,” and that Mavis has it so much better in the twin cities than anyone else in Mercury. Gee, I needed to hear that, Mavis says.  Buddy and Beth had brought her to the brink of realizing how messed-up her life was; Sandra sends her back into her fantasy again. This is how neurosis continues; there is always someone who will feed your sickness.

I could not believe that this movie did not make it to anything for the Oscars. It is an outsider’s movie about a very particular aspect of our culture. In 2012 it looks like we like our white women to be iron ladies like Margaret Thatcher or victims like Marilyn Monroe and we like our black women to be housemaids and slaves. We don’t want to show a drunken, failed white woman on screen.  The character of Mavis Gary is one of the most accurate depictions of women who fail in their lives in their thirties and forties because they believed in the fantasy of the perfect lover as the key to self-fulfillment and happiness. Excellent movie.

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