I have a superstition that a studio's confidence in a film can often be determined by length of the movie's Wikipedia page. Young Adult's Wikipedia is about 800 words long if you subtract links and other website jibba jabba. The recent Muppets has about 5000 words. The reason for invoking this completely unscientific ponderment of mine is because I'm a big fan of Director Jason Reitman, so this short wiki, not a week out from the release, was a bit odd to me.
And now I know why. “Young Adult” is shallow and awful, and, ha ha, has all the depth of a young adult novel about vampires. Except all the sucking is done by the film itself, and not the people in it.
Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) is a young adult novelist. She's writing a series of declining in popularity tween books about an upper crust prep school and how great it is to be popular… like, totally. She feeds on E! Reality television, and the fried chicken at KenTacoHut. That's a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut rolled into one for the even moderately healthy eaters out there. But anyway, she receives a forwarded e-mail from former, now-married, flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his baby.
Perhaps due to the ticking of some sort of biological clock, she decides now is a good a time as any to head back to her old hometown, win back her ex-boyfriend, complete that pesky novel, and live happily ever after with nary a care for anyone else's feelings, lives, or reality.
Her first night back she sets a date for a drink with Buddy, right before running into the doughy Matt (Patton Oswald). Matt is something of a town celebrity, because in high school he was beaten half to death by a bunch of “Jocks” for being gay. Of course Matt is not gay, but I suppose that's hindsight for you. As a result Matt has a bum leg, walks with a crutch (not a metaphor at all) and apparently his naughty bits have been re-arranged into something out of a Picasso painting.
Diablo Cody writes Matt as what she thinks the nerdy fat kids she never talked to in high school would be like today. She's probably never talked to one (or cared to talk to one) until writing the script, submitting it, and then realizing they'll have to cast an actual fat actor for that role. Oswald is in this movie primarily to say things like “I'm a fat geek” and “Guys like me were born loving girls like you” and to have oddball hobbies, like fabricating a makeshift distillery or re-assembling action figures with pieces from other action figures just because.
Cody couldn't even be bothered to research the fact that the people who build and paint action figures in the manner in which Jeff does, use them to play elaborate board games (think Risk on steroids). Not just to put Captain America's head on Iron Man's body cause they're bored, lonely and fat. Anyone who's seen a movie about an outwardly ugly duckling, and inwardly ugly swan, knows where this is going. When it gets there, and Mavis and Matt reach the...ha ha...climax of their association with one another, it's...nothing.
A friend of mine got a chance to attend a Q&A with Director Jason Reitman about this specific film. Reitman explained that the movie is, in a way about how people can come so close, so very close, to changing but never do. I find this premise flawed, as I do most films where a character has an inspirational moment and changes completely: they'll stop smoking pot, drinking with his friends ( I'm mostly referencing Judd Apatow movies here) but my point is, I don't like spending 11 dollars of my hard earned money to watch characters change all of a sudden… or worse, not change at all.
Yes, sometimes an arc can complete itself by arriving back at the beginning (The Aviator), or reminding us a character may not have changed as much we think (Bat Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans). Something of significance needs to happen to keep the audience entertained, or fulfilled.
My question is who is this movie for? Fans of Jason Reitman will be shamed for being in the same theater in which this morality tale minus the moral is playing. Fans of Patton Oswald will be annoyed by his simplistic character and his function as an if-everything-else-goes-wrong-at-least-there's-the-chubster-with-a-heart-of-gold parachute for Mavis.
Fans of Diablo Cody, of which there are many, will probably enjoy the humor and adorable puppy. But, nothing goes anywhere and the movie ends almost exactly like the IFC film Super, except with zero satisfaction. No character development or resolution. Patton Oswald literally disappears from the film after his arc is completed. His arc by the way boils down to being the fat guy who gets to have sex with the pretty girl. Yeah… a completely one-dimensional resolution.
Considering the bad dialog (particularly for Oswald's character), weak message, and emptiness of the whole thing, I don't feel so bad writing the following sentence. Simply put, Young Adult is immature.
*Oswald's film "Big Fan" can be seen on Netflix Instant an is a far more rewarding picture.
Paul Meekin can be found on twitter @MeekinOnMovies, on Facebook, and is currently starring in the hit web-based sketch-comedy show "FatMan and LittleGirl" while not writing, producing, or panicing.