Young Adult


Young Adult

Mavis prepares for battle.

(2011) Black Comedy (Paramount) Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolf, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Rebecca Hart, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, John Forest. Directed by Jason Reitman

 

We are all of us a product of our upbringing, for better or for worse. We are shaped in ways that aren’t just shaped by our parents and our homes but also our peers, our schools, our experiences. The people we are can be traced in a direct line to the people we used to be in high school, sometimes for the better but not always. Sometimes we’re exactly the same.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a writer of young adult fiction. To be more accurate, she’s a ghost writer of young adult fiction. She has taken over an immensely popular series of books set in an exclusive prep school and has presided over a successful run which is now coming to an end. In fact, she’s in the midst of writing the final book in the series.

Mavis lives in the big city – Minneapolis, not New York – but originally hails from a small town in Minnesota called Mercury. She fled the small town environs the first chance she got and she has no real desire to return – in fact, she hasn’t been home in years.

However all that changes when she gets a notice that her ex in Mercury – Buddy Slade (Wilson) – has just become a daddy. He has married Beth (Reaser), a classmate of theirs while Mavis has been married and divorced and now goes on a series of dates that end up in unfulfilling sex after a fair amount of liquid courage has been consumed. She gets it in her head that Buddy is trapped in a marriage that is sapping his soul and that she needs to go to Mercury and rescue him.

With her poor neglected dog in tow, she drives to the despised Mercury. While there she runs into Matt Freehauf (Oswalt) whose locker used to adjoin hers. She doesn’t really remember him until he brings out that he was the victim of a hate crime – a group of jocks who believed he was gay brutally beat him, shattering his leg and mangling his penis. It was big news…up until the moment the media found out that he wasn’t gay and so they lost interest. Apparently nobody cared that a short fat kid got the crap kicked out of him.

Matt and Mavis seem to be kindred spirits in  a way; although Mavis treats Matt like a toad, she respects that he tells her what he thinks and doesn’t kiss butt. For his part he figures out he has no shot with her anyway so he can afford to be direct.

He pleads with her that Buddy is happily married and in love with being a dad but Mavis is having none of it. She blows into town with all the finesse of cancer and inspiring twice the joy at her arrival. Most of the townspeople look a bit askance at her; she was the beautiful girl who left for the big city and made good – why the hell would she come back and ruin everything? But come back she does and ruin everything she tries to do.

Theron gives a terrific performance here. Mavis is distinctly unlikable and possibly even a little psychotic. She is self-obsessed to the point of mania and really doesn’t have a lot of empathy which you can read as “any.” Still, she manages to create a character that you can follow without liking, which is a neat trick that you can thank not only Theron but Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, the latter two who previously teamed on Juno.

Her chemistry with Oswalt is surprising. They are perhaps the ultimate of odd couples, but they do have a bond – the misfit who has been literally battered by life and the prom queen whose life has passed her by and whom, she suspects, happiness has also passed her by. Matt is positive that happiness has passed him by and he fills his hours with creating his own mash-up action figures and distilling his own bourbon, a hobby that meets with Mavis’ approval.

The problem here is that it’s sold as something of a black comedy but the awkward moments outnumber the funny ones. I guess my comedic sense is a bit too stone age for modern comedy but just creating a painfully awkward moment isn’t really enough to get me chuckling. Theron does a great job as Mavis but there are times you really want to punch her in the face.

I like that the ending didn’t take the easy way out with a typical Hollywood comeuppance. I also like that the movie is intelligently written, which is a certain box office kiss of death. Still in all, I can recommend the movie not without reservations but nonetheless worth seeing.

REASONS TO GO: Theron and Oswalt do stellar work. Nifty ending that isn’t too cliché.

REASONS TO STAY: As comedies go, not really funny. Mavis is a bit too unlikable at times.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language and a bit of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mavis drives a Mini-Cooper in the movie. Theron also drove a Mini-Cooper in the movies once before, for The Italian Job.

HOME OR THEATER: I’d guess this works just as well at home as it does at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Something Borrowed


Something Borrowed

Being BFFs means never having to say you're sorry - although both women should apologize for this movie.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Jill Eikenberry, Geoff Pierson, Leia Thompson, Jonathan Epstein, Sarah Baldwin, Mark La Mura. Directed by Luke Greenfield

Perhaps the most frustrating element of being a movie reviewer is seeing a movie that has a good deal of potential only to waste it with clichés, Hollywood endings and just plain bad writing.

Rachel (Goodwin) is a successful lawyer in Manhattan who is surprised on her 30th birthday by her best friend Darcy (Hudson) who throws her a big party. Also there is Rachel’s confidante and buddy Ethan (Krasinski); Claire (Williams), a somewhat high-strung woman who has the hots for Ethan who is interested not so much, and Marcus (Howey), a new man in town who basically has the libido of a Viagra poster boy, the deft touch of a Neanderthal and the maturity of a Justin Bieber fan. Naturally, as is Darcy’s wont, she becomes the center of attention over the birthday girl but Rachel doesn’t seem to mind – that is part of Darcy’s charm.

Not quite so charming to Rachel is that Darcy is engaged to Dex (Egglesfield) who went to law school at NYU with Rachel and who Rachel had a BIG crush on before she allowed Darcy to swoop in and claim him. Still, she seems okay enough with it to be Darcy’s Maid of Honor. However after the party, she finds herself alone with Dex; they have a couple of drinks and wake up the next morning in the same bed.

At first, much consternation and much guilt – how could we have done it? Oh my God! Then, realization – there must be something there. Then, longing looks exchanged in secret as the VERY wealthy Dex rents a summer home in the Hamptons and the whole crew escape there each weekend. Then, a weekend alone for Dex and Rachel and more sack time. Ethan figures it out. Thinks Rachel should come clean to Darcy. Dex doesn’t want to call it off though – his mom (Eikenberry) who is ill is so happy because of the wedding. In the meantime, Rachel is miserable. What’s a girl to do?

What this could have been – what this should have been – was a look at human interaction. Instead, it’s a bunch of whiny, more money than brains 20 and 30-somethings navigating treacherous waters without any sort of moral compass in evidence. Sure, Rachel shows some remorse but does she own up to her betrayal? No she does not, nor does she stop her shenanigans with Dex.

Goodwin is an actress with loads of potential – she was so very good in “Big Love” – but she hasn’t gotten over the bland but likable roles that are all that are seemingly available in modern romantic comedies. She does a decent enough job here but ultimately she comes off badly mainly because the character was written badly, making all kinds of poor choices and seemingly never haunted by the consequences of ANY of them.

Egglesfield is given little to do besides look longingly at Goodwin. His character is the worst offender here, completely without spine or sense. After a couple of hours with him, I knew that he would never be a good life partner; he’s handsome and he’s a lawyer, but at the end of the day the character was weak and lacked character, a bad combination.

Krasinski who has done such yeoman work in “The Office” is making a niche as the friend who knows too much which is kind of a bad thing – he has so much more going for him. Of all the actors here he has the potential to be a huge star, but hasn’t landed a role that will get him there. I don’t think he’ll be emphasizing this one on his resume, even though he winds up the most sympathetic of all the characters here and has the best line in the movie, describing the Hamptons as a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren.

Now I’m not a prude nor am I someone who needs the movies to have a sense of morality, but this one doesn’t seem to have any. Cheating and betraying your friends gets you rewarded and lying is depicted as an admirable way to make it through the day. I don’t mind people doing bad things but there need to be consequences and these people don’t suffer any.

In fact, there is kind of a wealth worship that I find distasteful. There is so much product placement in the film that it becomes numbing after awhile, the movie having more Madison Avenue than Hollywood Boulevard in it. It all felt assembled on a Hollywood factory line, with all the Rom-Com 101 points hit and an ending that went on far too long and well past the point where I cared what happened to any of these people.

There are points in the movie that show promise, such as a scene at a sleepover where you get a sense of the closeness between Rachel and Darcy and a conversation between Ethan and Rachel near the end of the movie where Ethan makes a “surprising” confession. Smart people can make dumb choices and I get that, but smart people usually don’t act like idiots on a consistent basis. The sad fact is there was a really good movie to be made here, but what we wound up with was a piece of fluff that not only has no substance but actually seems to be suggesting that the more wealth you have, the less likely you are to suffer from being a douchebag (or the female equivalent thereof). It’s always a bad sign when a movie sets itself up for a sequel you don’t want to see – because you don’t want to spend another minute with the people onscreen.

REASONS TO GO: Goodwin and Hudson have some pretty nice chemistry. Krasinski shows a lot of depth here.

REASONS TO STAY: Where to begin – wasted opportunities abound. A Hollywood ending stretches the boundaries of believability and by the end of the film you don’t care what happens to anybody in it.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestive dialogue and a good deal of sexuality. There’s also a bit of bad language and some drug use, including much drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Ethan and Rachel are sitting on a park bench, the woman on the bench next to them is reading a book called “Something Blue” by Emily Giffin. The woman is none other than Emily Giffin, author of the novel this movie is based on.

HOME OR THEATER: A big theater is unnecessary for this one; it’s probably best viewed at home for a little home video date night.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Restrepo