December 12, 2011
That Diablo Cody, she's really got something
Let me tell you, I wasn't wild about Juno. The acting was pretty good and I liked the characters OK, but the dialogue (especially the first 20 minutes) made me want to stab myself, the soundtrack was a catastrophe, and the whole storyline was just a little too cute and tidy. Diablo Cody won an Oscar for her script, which I conceptually support because I conceptually like Diablo Cody, but there's no way that cutesy hyper-indie-self-aware script was the best one that year.
Her new movie is Young Adult (with Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, above) which like Juno was directed by Jason Reitman. I love this movie. It seems like Diablo Cody had to get all that contrived, pretend-hipster-teen-speak out of her system with Juno and, to a lesser extent, Jennifer's Body, then started doing some good, funny stuff in "United States of Tara", then finally arrived where she was always meant to be: back in small-town Minnesota, in Young Adult.
Young Adult starts with a classic romantic comedy plot line: What if your high school love was actually The One? Let's get him back! But this movie realizes that this particular story line is totally insane, and a person who decides that she and her (married) high school boyfriend are meant for each other is not really a hopeless romantic ready to rediscover love in her hometown, but a mentally ill jerk.
Several scenes in this movie fall within rom-com standard operating procedures, but they all get subverted and end up going in a totally unexpected direction. The heroine from the big city does not learn the value of family and small-town life, she doesn't come to see that the ex-boyfriend's wife that she initially loathes is actually a wonderful woman and that he belongs with her now, and she does not realize that high school is over and she should love her besotted but un-handsome best friend.
Mostly, she just gets hammered and complains about her relatively glamorous, comfortable life, until she realizes the following important life lesson (spoiler alert): she doesn't give a shit about small-town losers, and she's better off without them. Who has the guts to make a movie like that? It's phenomenal.
Charlize Theron is completely amazing and great. Her character, Mavis, is beautiful, selfish, and mean, and over the course of the movie doesn't really experience any growth as a person. Though she does come to embrace the same self-confidence/self-righteousness that she possessed as a popular girl back in high school. Plus she's a drunk. It's not a likeable character, but she's totally compelling and I couldn't take my eyes off her. She plays Mavis in a way that expresses the character's entire life--she feels like a real person that you want to watch in spite of how horrible she is.
And it goes without saying that Patton Oswalt is very funny and excellent as a high school outcast type who never left his hometown. He's just as bitter and miserable as Mavis is, but sees things a little more clearly than she does, which forms the basis of their strangely believable world-hating alliance. Their scenes together are so natural and fun to watch, it's not surprising that they seem to have become legitimate drinking buddies in real life.
Diablo Cody's last movie, Jennifer's Body, didn't do so well, but between that one and this she's creating a weird, dark body of work about the prettiest girls in high school. She's good at subverting femininity and all that post-feminist-stripper stuff, but she's so much better with boozy, un-romantic comedy than horror and teenagers. It's probably one of this year's more warped movies, and one of my favorites.
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