Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt
Director: Jason Reitman
Running Time: 94 mins
Young Adult is an American film about a struggling writer living in the city who takes a trip back to her hometown, with the intention of getting back together with a former classmate, even though he’s now married with kids.
Director Jason Reitman has brought some brilliantly relatable, funny and moving comedy-dramas to the screen over the years, with the likes of Juno and Up In The Air in particular standing out as real greats of recent years.
In comparison, Young Adult is a decidely darker take on well-trodden ground for Reitman, and while that does take away some of the fun likability that his best films do have, it does open up for some thought-provoking drama, all brought to life fantastically by Charlize Theron.
And it’s with Theron that I want to start, because while comedy isn’t a genre that we often see her star in, Young Adult is a demonstration of just how versatile an actress she can be, with a fantastic performance that straddles the film’s funniest, silliest moments and a character with real depth to showcase.
As a result, while her character is far from the most morally sound you’ll ever meet, Theron’s sheer talent on screen is more than enough to make her entirely captivating and surprisingly relatable too.
Films that centre on a main character having a total emotional breakdown are often very difficult to get right, particularly when there’s a comedic element at play as well. Too often are films with the premise overly bleak, featuring unlikable leads who you don’t ever turn to support as the viewer, but thanks to Theron’s excellent performance and strong writing throughout, Young Adult gets the balance almost perfectly right.
There are moments when everything does feel rather dark, and there are some really bleak, difficult-to-bear moments in the final act. However, the film works with a strongly sarcastic approach to the struggles of its main character, poking fun at her moral deficiencies as she tries to break up a happy marriage for her own gain, meaning that there is an equally enjoyable side of schadenfreude to make those darker moments a little more palatable.
Now, the film never has the charisma of Up In The Air or the quirkiness of Juno, but Reitman’s ironic approach to the central character’s emotional turmoil means there is less expectation on you to take what is quite a dark story entirely seriously, and that makes a world of difference when it comes to making an enjoyable film.
On the serious side of matters, however, Reitman also does a great job to give due attention and care to the genuine emotional struggles of our main character. The film recognises that she’s far from a perfect person, and justifiably chastises her for it, however it also opens up a window for you to sympathise with her as she begins to lay bare the root of her frustrations as the story unfolds.
It’s an effective technique that, while leaving the opening act a little less than gripping, becomes more and more dramatically engrossing throughout, ultimately finishing on a very strong note that features a brilliant blend of good humour and real, thought-provoking drama.
In that, there’s a lot to gain from Young Adult, and while it isn’t quite Jason Reitman’s strongest work of all, a powerhouse lead performance from Charlize Theron and clever, generally well-balanced writing do a lot to make it a surprisingly entertaining and emotionally engaging watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.