Saturday, December 17, 2011

High School Does End, Mavis Gary

Let's be clear about this: Juno MacGuff would be able to handle life after high school...decades, even.
Mavis Gary, however, didn't. Not really.
She's a ghost author for a dying young adult book series. She's in a condo tower in Minneapolis that has seen better days, like her. She wastes time watching reality shows, or sleeping off the night before, with her Breakfast of Champions...Diet Coke.
Now she gets an e-mail from an old high school beau, asking her to visit at the old home town of Mercury and see his wife and new child.
She thinks it's a sign, that she can have a second chance at high school glory.

Thus, Young Adult begins, where Charlize Theron plays a different kind of "Monster": the high school prom queen that was so popular, everyone hated her.
Director Jason Reitman says Theron was only person who would bring Mavis to life, and man, was he right on this one. She plays the girl who's afraid she peaked too soon perfectly.
Still, Mavis hangs on to those years: she still has a cassette mix tape from Buddy Slade, the high school sweetheart in question. She plays "The Concept" over and over. You see t-shirts from the '90s, from the Pixies to the Breeders.
Her plan: to get Buddy (Patrick Wilson) back, despite the fact he's married and with a kid. Hey, it's just baggage to Mavis.

She later meets Matt, played by Patton Oswalt, who had a locker next to her back in high school but she didn't seem to notice. She just knew him the guy who was beaten and crippled by football players who thought he was gay. Once people found out Matt wasn't gay, they didn't care about him anymore. Despite this, he's managed to move on. He's there as Mavis' sounding board, and also her conscience. Oddly, they even have a connection. Oswalt is great at this role, and it's too bad he's not getting more love from award shows. Hopefully, Oscar will fix that.

But just as Juno was Ellen Page's show, Young Adult is Theron's show. It's a story of a girl who desperately wanted to feel as special as she thought she was back at Mercury High School. It's safe to say she couldn't do it. Would her reunion with her friends in Mercury change all that?

She does use her visit, and her occasional eavesdropping of "typical teens", to write the final "Waverly High" book, or try to. In it, she casts herself as "Kendall Strickland", who trying to figure out life as graduation nears. It's a clear parallel to what's happened to Mavis.

Theron should easily make the final cut for Best Actress at the Oscars, and two scenes will guarantee that. The first is when Mavis is at a local bar, seeing Buddy's wife's band play. Once they play "The Concept", which Mavis thinks is HER song with Buddy, the look on her face says it all. The other scene is the naming ceremony for the baby at Buddy's house. Just look for it. It will lead to probably the most unlikely and tender love scene in the past 20 years. Credit writer Diablo Cody and Reitman for pulling these moments off.

So, if you want a more realistic rom-com, Young Adult is for you. Check it out, guys. I predict it will get nominations for Best Actress and Original Screenplay, and maybe a longshot for Best Director. At least the Critics Choice Awards are giving it the love it deserves.

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