IMDB confirms a hunch I’ve always had. Good things come in threes.
Or to be more specific…. Major directors often hit the ground running with three great pieces of work. Martin Scorsese kicked things off with his first three big pictures – Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver. Bryan Singer’s Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil and X-Men(s) suggested great things. And who didn’t appreciate Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. And you know what, I’m even putting in the wacky Gondry trilogy of Eternal Sunshine, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind.
But what all these tenuously-linked men have in common is, that after finding fame with those trilogies they all hit major stumbling blocks in their career. Scorcese’s flop musical New York, New York. Singer’s misunderstood and unprofitable Superman Returns. Rodriguez’s The Faculty and Spy Kids combing to define “interesting choices”. Tarantino took years to bring us Kill Bill, and the two-part bloated masterpiece did its damnedest to divide fans. And the less said about Gondry’s Green Hornet debacle the better.
So why the long-winded intro I hear you say? Isn’t this meant to be a review of the new Charlize Theron movie? Bear with me. After bringing us three of my favourites from the last five years – Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air – I was a little worried that Young Adult director Jason Reitman may well be about to join that made-up “cantfollowupatrilogy” club.
Young Adult sees Reitman re-team with Juno screen-writer Diablo Cody, who came to prominence with her memoir “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper” which documented her time as a stripper. She went on to cemented her name in Hollywood’s conscience with appearances on talk shows and striking awards season red-carpet appearances for Juno. Winning a screen-writing Oscar while wearing a leopard print dress is now one of my life ambitions. Cody followed up her win with the dubious double-hit of Jennifer’s Body and a script re-write on Cher and Cristina Aguilera’s Burlesque. To give her credit where credit is due, the last few years have seen her active outside of the film world, creating a baby (no mean feat) and the relatively successful TV show United States of Tara.
Young Adult presents South Africa’s finest export since all those lovely blood diamonds, Charlize Theron, as a teen-fiction writer named Mavis. Fresh from a divorce, she heads back to her home town in Minnesota to do some soul-searching. Having socially peaked in high school, some twisted logic sees her trying to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend. Only problem is he is now happily married with a newborn daughter.
So here’s the awkward thing… Mavis may well be one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen up on screen. And the fault for that really has to lie entirely with Cody. She’s been incredibly open in interviews about saying how this is a really unconventional character study without the traditional Hollywood arc of redemption. While that may be true, it’s incredibly frustrating to see Theron putting this much effort into her performance and yet being so irritating in her irrationality and behaviour.
Mavis is a heavy drinker and unwilling to admit that alcohol has become her crutch as she struggles with her failed marriage and the news that the teen series that she has ghost-written – Waverly Prep – is being wound up after she has submitted the final book in the series. The device of using her narration of Kendall’s final days in high school against Mavis’ writer’s block feels tired, contrived and predictable.
There are some laughs along the way and Theron’s performance is admirable. Alongside her is comedian Patton Oswalt who plays Matt, a partially handicapped former school-mate of Mavis who was beaten up by bullies who thought he was gay. Oswalt gets to show a lot more range than we’re used to from him, and dare I say with a better film where their relationship was given the chance to be fleshed out a bit, both would have been a lot more prominent this awards season.
Young Adult just feels like the first half of a very different movie. The initial exposition before some sort of growth or development takes place. It’s a brave third act and I’m in no doubt some people, most critics included, are going to love this movie simply for going against the grain. But as an audience member I found it nigh on impossible not to feel annoyed after spending an hour and half with these characters.
What’s most upsetting is that this had so much potential. I have Reitman down as one of Hollywood’s real hopes for the future. A man who could consistently entertain us every two years with films that perfectly balance thought-provoking fare with edginess and populist fun. If that’s to happen he’s going to have to make sure he has more say in the scripts he takes on…
USA / Jason Reitman / Diablo Cody / Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt / 94min / Drama, Comedy / Release: 16 December 2011 (US/Canada), 3 February 2012 (UK/Irl)