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
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
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