It's really not surprising that screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman's reunion after the extraordinarily successful Juno, while far superior, has failed to strike a chord with filmgoers, Academy voters and many critics. This artful subversion of the rules of romantic comedy picks apart at the formula of, say, My Best Friend's Wedding to rip it to shreds in a blizzard of well-observed despair and self-loathing, as the clichés of happy-ever-after rose-tinted glamour are revealed for the faked facade they are, hiding a harrowingly fragile humanity.

     It is also the story of a woman in crisis whose present seems so hopeless that she decides to recapture her past in a desperate last-stand action: Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a divorced ghost-writer of teenage novels whose cash-cow series is reaching its end, return to her Minnesota hometown to conquer her old high-school flame (Patrick Wilson), happily married and father to a newborn baby. But despite her outward appearance, the glamour queen high school days are long gone, and the only person she can fully trust and truly connect with turns out to be the one guy she never paid any attention to: class freak Matt (Patton Oswalt), whose bullying at the hands of the local jocks left him physically crippled for life, and whose sharp awareness allows him to see through Mavis' shtick to realise she is as much a misfit as he is. Mavis and Matt bond in an unlikely brotherhood of outsiders, as she finds herself forced to face her life in shambles and the inability to hide any longer behind her looks.

     Two bravura performances from Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt are made all the more remarkable by Ms. Cody's sharp-tongued but never gratuitously mean dialogue, and by Mr. Reitman's pitch-perfect, self-effacing handling of the script. And therein lies the tricky balancing act everyone involved successfully pulls off: there is nothing mean-spirited, sanctimonious or condescending in this tale of the pains of growing up, no matter how late; merely a rich sense of humanity, of flawed characters who don't necessarily learn the lessons they need to learn, of people stumbling along in life trying to make the best of whatever it is they're given to work with.

     By refusing to reduce its characters to stereotypes (even if the supporting characters skirt them, at times dangerously, through sheer lack of screen time), Young Adult steps well out of both romantic comedy and contemporary Hollywood's comfort zones. You laugh, yes, and you laugh a lot, but the laugh ends up strangled in your throat as you realise just how desperate is the underlying emotion. Juno was merely a teaser - Ms. Cody has grown in giant steps since then, and her script brings out the best in Mr. Reitman too. Young Adult is a small jewel.

Charlize Theron; Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser.
     Director, Jason Reitman; screenplay, Diablo Cody; cinematography, Eric Steelberg (prints by DeLuxe); music, Rolfe Kent; production designer, Kevin Thompson; costume designer, David Robinson; editor, Dana E. Glauberman; producers, Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, Ms. Cody, Mason Novick, Mr. Reitman (Paramount Pictures, Mandate Pictures, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films, Denver & Delilah Films), USA, 2011, 93 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), January 24th 2012. 


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