Grow­ing pains in the asses

Di­rec­tor and writer re­turn with a mildly di­vert­ing study of small-town 30-some­things stuck in a rut, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

MAVIS GARY (Char­l­ize Theron) is stuck in a rut. The ghost­writer of the hit Waverly Prep books is un­der pres­sure to de­liver the final book in the young-adult se­ries, but is oc­cu­pied with cheap white wine and late-night carbs.

An email an­nounc­ing that the wife of Mavis’s old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Pa­trick Wil­son) has given birth to a new daugh­ter pro­vides a dis­trac­tion. Con­vinced that Buddy has made a ter­ri­ble mis­take, Mavis drives to the small town where she and Buddy grew up. For­mer make-out mu­sic from Teenage Fan­club plays on a loop as she goes.

Buddy is, of course, de­lighted to see his old chum for a drink and brings her home to meet his wife Beth (El­iz­a­beth Reaser). Mavis is less than thrilled to dis­cover that

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the poignantly plain Beth, the drum­mer in an ex­cru­ci­at­ing mom rock band, is warm, wel­com­ing and only slightly less im­ma­ture than she is. Blood­ied but un­bowed, Mavis re­treats to a lo­cal bar, where she con­spires with for­mer gay-bash­ing vic­tim Matt (Pat­ton Oswalt, ter­rific) to “res­cue” Buddy. Hare­brained schemes and mor­ti­fi­ca­tions en­sue.

It’s been four years since Juno – a per­fect storm per­co­lated be­tween star Ellen Page, stripper-turnedau­thor Di­ablo Cody and di­rect­ing tyro Ja­son Reit­man – en­livened cine­mas and award cer­e­monies. Sadly, four years is a long time in the moviev­erse; four years, in­deed, is all it took for The Ma­trix to be­come The Ma­trix Reloaded.

When Juno pre­miered in 2007, Reit­man, a kid who grew up around his fa­ther Ivan’s movie sets, had al­ready suc­cess­fully set out his stall with the dryly hu­mor­ous Big To­bacco satire Thank You for Smok­ing. Juno, how­ever, seemed to ear­mark Reit­man for big­ger and bet­ter things. Pun­dits and com­men­ta­tors du­ti­fully reached for words such as “au­teur” and “Cas­savetes”.

Cody si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­came the talk of the town. The one-time pole-danc­ing blog­ger was quickly snapped up by Steven Spiel­berg to write and de­velop a TV dram­edy (United States of Tara), and she took home the Os­car for best orig­i­nal screen­play. She was sen­sa­tional enough, in fact, to war­rant a trash­ing on Fam­ily Guy.

Still, an in­dif­fer­ent in­terim pe­riod has left both these par­ties in some need of a hit. Reit­man’s last film, Up in the Air, earned some good no­tices but failed to at­tract good busi­ness. Over in the Cody camp, United States of Tara was axed af­ter three dwin­dling sea­sons last spring. Her lively, much-touted screen­play for Jen­nifer’s Body made for a man­gled film and was fur­ther scup­pered by an es­pe­cially dreary Amanda Seyfried per­for­mance.

Young Adult, at the least, brings Cody’s uniquely bitchy voice back to the big screen. The film is both a the­matic se­quel and an about turn: where Juno demon­strates that even knocked up teenagers can be smart and sassy, Young Adult notes that grown-ups can be aw­fully dumb.

View­ers ex­pect­ing What Juno Did Next will not be dis­ap­pointed with Theron’s 30-some­thing loser. Her com­pelling depic­tion of a self-ab­sorbed, dog-abus­ing wagon makes for ter­rif­i­cally dour com­edy.

At first glance, only con­tented and up­stand­ing cit­i­zens pop­u­late Mavis’s home­town. But look closer and she’s not alone in her young adult world; she’s merely an ex­treme man­i­fes­ta­tion of the child­ish­ness that seems to de­fine ev­ery char­ac­ter. Matt col­lects Star Wars ac­tion fig­ures; Beth goes out for “girls’ nights”; Buddy gets ex­cited that a Chipo­tle is com­ing to the mall.

It takes a good deal of runny mas­cara and bad pos­ture for Theron to con­vince as an ice-cream swill­ing ne’er-do-well. She puts on a good show, and yet the film lacks grav­i­tas. For all its dark themes and im­pli­ca­tions, Young Adult sim­ply doesn’t have enough ma­te­rial to power a fea­ture-length film.

Typ­i­cal. You just can’t count on those 30-some­things to do any­thing right. ADAM SAN­DLER plays twins: one an as­sured male, the other a dys­func­tional fe­male. Fish in a bar­rel present a less chal­leng­ing tar­get. Barn doors avoid the crit­i­cal shot­gun with greater agility. San­dler might as well walk around with a tar­get chalked on his unlovely back. How can he live with him­self? Oh, yeah. There’s the fame, money, se­cu­rity and baf­fling pop­u­lar adu­la­tion.

For all Mr San­dler’s pre­vi­ous of­fences, Jack and Jill still comes across as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to plumb depths that even he has left hith­erto un­ex­plored. To make mat­ters worse, he’s even dragged poor old Al Pa­cino into his sor­did schemes.

If San­dler and Den­nis Du­gan, the ac­tor’s reg­u­lar di­rec­tor, were ca­pa­ble of high-end irony, one might sus­pect that the film con­tained at least one, sur­pris­ingly twisty joke. Jack Sadel­stein, the male ver­sion of San­dler, works as a suc­cess­ful ad­ver­tis­ing di­rec­tor. When it is sug­gested that Pa­cino – he’s play­ing him­self – might ap­pear in a com­mer­cial for Dunkin Donuts, Jack re­acts with be­wil­der­ment. The God­fa­ther in an ad­ver­tise­ment for fried con­fec­tionary? The very thought!

It doesn’t seem so pre­pos­ter­ous to me, Jack. Pa­cino is, af­ter all, quite hap­pily play­ing the love in­ter­est to a dragged-up Adam San­dler in this hor­rid en­ter­prise. That donut promo be­gins to sound like Dog Day Af­ter­noon.

If you’ve seen any pre­vi­ous San­dler film (or worked as a kinder­garten teacher), you prob­a­bly have some idea what to ex­pect. There are a few poop jokes. A great deal of the hu­mour has a dis­turb­ing un­der­cur­rent of anger. At­tempt­ing to both have and eat a whole cake shop, the film makes fun of Jill’s clum­si­ness and home­li­ness while chastis­ing Jack for not ap­pre­ci­at­ing her in­ner beauty.

What re­ally sets the picture apart from other San­dler films, how­ever, is the sheer lazi­ness of the cen­tral per­for­mances. To play Jill, the star just pulls on a wig and does what Adam San­dler nor­mally does. If that sounds like your thing then . . . well, I don’t wish to be rude, but I hope the lo­bot­omy is heal­ing nicely.

One for the road: Char­l­ize Theron and Pat­ton Oswalt in Young Adult

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