Young Adult

Phillip V. Caruso/Paramount Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Juno director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reteam for this barbed serio-comedy about a boozy author obsessed with her ex BF. Reitman and Cody again wrap snark and heart around a baby-inspired plot, but this time their labor of love delivers mixed results.

The Bigger Picture: Charlize Theron is wicked good at playing bad, from her titular Monster turn to Queen Ravenna in next year's Snow White and the Huntsman. Though not as overtly evil as those two, her "psychotic prom-queen bitch" character in Young Adult still reaches despicable heights (or lows)—and is the best reason to see this thinly premised flick.

A ghostwriter of teen literature, 37-year-old Mavis Gary (Theron) is the chic poster child for self-absorbed ennui, addicted to—but unfulfilled by—alcohol, casual sex, Diet Coke, reality shows and social media. But then Mavis receives an emailed baby photo from high-school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson), and she hightails it to her small hometown in Minnesota. Her plan? To rekindle a romance with Buddy and steal him away from his wife and new child.

When Mavis' mission proves more difficult than expected, she starts hanging and drinking with former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), a pudgy geek crippled after a near-fatal beating in high school. Mavis and Matt's unlikely bond proves more engaging than the central plot, as Mavis' delusions about Buddy (and Buddy's obliviousness to her intentions) are difficult to believe, even with some psych-lite tossed in.

The film overplays its stunted-adult theme—there's the movie's title, Mavis' profession and book VOs, her makeover montages and puerile shows constantly playing on TVs. A character even says to Mavis point blank: "God knows you don't know s--t about being an adult." We get it.

Fortunately, Reitman and Cody do know about winning laughs by mocking the banal, suburban and ridiculous. Theron too delivers the funny, but she also conveys the pain and fear beneath Mavis' coolly beautiful veneer of detachment. It's a fierce, fearless performance that deserves attention, even if Young Adult remains underdeveloped.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Mavis expresses disdain for the takeover of fast-food chains, but the film itself sells out with countless product shots and endorsements. If you drink every time one appears, you'll be as wasted as she is.

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