Psycho Prom-Queen Bitch

19 Dec

In the new film Young Adult, screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron have created one of my favorite movie characters in recent memory.

Mavis Gray is the girl you totally hated in high school but secretly wanted to be, and who surely hated you too (even if she barely knew you existed).

She’s the pretty girl who dated the hottest guy.

The one who told you she was going to leave town the second graduation happened, and did.

The one who got the big job as a writer — excuse me, author — and the condo in the big city (i.e., Minneapolis).

The one who ruled the school and made your life a living hell.

And yet, as much as she may have hated everything about her small-town existence, for Mavis, high school will always be the the be-all end-all for her. Nothing will ever be as good as those days.

So, realizing her life has passed its peak, Mavis decides to return to her hometown and reclaim what’s rightfully hers: the high school boyfriend who got away.

But of course, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has moved on from high school and is now married with a child. For Mavis, that’s just baggage. Something she and Buddy can overcome together.

Armed with her hot-chick wardrobe and caustic attitude, Mavis arrives in Mercury like she never left, and like things are exactly as she left them. She still looks down on everything and treats everyone with disdain because they’re not as perfect and cool as she is.

Or, more accurately, as she thinks she is.

And it’s in Mercury that she meets Matt Freehauf (the excellent Patton Oswalt), the schlumpy former classmate who Mavis spurned back in the day. Matt is also dealing with his own issues from high school, and he tries to tell Mavis to just give it up. Despite this reality check, she proceeds to try and steal Buddy away anyway.

Yeah, Mavis is a character alright. And as played by Theron, she’s a spectacular mess.

This is a hysterical performance, one of the funniest of the year.

Cody has given Theron some choice lines of dialogue, and they’re delivered with such a biting, sardonic tone. Everyone else can see right through Mavis, and they know what she’s up to, even if she thinks they’re all wrong.

This isn’t delusion. It’s straight-up psycho.

And Theron is just a force of nature. She owns this role like she has few others. Mavis isn’t a sympathetic character at all, and yet I totally love her because she’s so awesomely screwed up.

Bravo, bravo.

Cody and Reitman, reunited here for the first time since their hipster-cute Juno, have made a stark 180 in tone and content.

Young Adult doesn’t have a positive message, or a lead character who will go through a profound change as a result of her experience.

After all, what fun would it be if Mavis learned her lesson and became nice?

And that’s the movie’s strength and its weakness.

When the film comes to its end and Mavis gets a minor wake-up call, she basically just presses the Snooze button, and the movie ends.

It’s nice to see a movie do away with the saccharine, but it leaves Young Adult with an ending that feels abrupt, unfinished, and unresolved.

And it’s a shame, because this is such a satisfying movie for its first 90 minutes. It’s a glorious f-you to everyone who still lives and dies by their high school existence. And then … it’s just over.

What will become of Mavis when she’s back in the “mini Apple?” Probably nothing. But you might hope she would get a decent comeuppance or something. Instead, she just retreats and we all move on, back to normal.

Oh well.

So that’s why I’m only giving Young Adult a B.

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