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

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New Releases for the Week of December 16, 2011


December 16, 2011

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

(Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Geraldine Hudson, Paul Anderson. Directed by Guy Ritchie

Holmes is pitted against his archrival, Professor Moriarty and the stakes couldn’t possibly get higher. When the Crown Prince of Austria is discovered dead, all signs point to suicide – but Holmes sees the signs nobody else can see and deduces that the Prince was in truth murdered and that murder is part of a larger plot, one that would plunge Europe into chaos and indeed change the course of history. Holmes must enlist his stalwart friend Dr. Watson and enlist the help of a gypsy to stop Moriarty’s fiendish plans and save Europe from catastrophe.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

(20th Century Fox) Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate, Justin Long. The lovable chipmunks turn what was supposed to be a relaxing cruise into their own brand of fun. The fun ends when they get stranded on a remote island. The furry rodents plot their escape to get back home but then it turns out the island isn’t as deserted as they thought.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: G

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

(Submarine Deluxe) Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Frank Oz.  A young man becomes enchanted with Sesame Street and resolves to become a Muppeteer. That this young man is an African American raises all sorts of different obstacles, but this young man will eventually become the voice and the soul of Elmo, arguably the most beloved Muppet of them all and certainly one of the most popular.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Dragonslayer

(Drag City) Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, Leslie. The winner of Best Documentary from the most recent SXSW Film Festival, Dragonslayer chronicles disaffected youth Josh “Skreech” Sandoval from Fullerton, California. Skreech lives the skate punk ethos, possessing as little as possible, staying high as much as possible and skating whenever possible, finding abandoned swimming pools to swoop and glide in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Young Adult

(Paramount) Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser. A successful writer of teen literature returns to where she grew up for a class reunion, she plots to reclaim her high school sweetheart. Never mind that he is happily married with a baby on the way, that’s just petty distractions. Along the way she kindles a strange friendship with a misfit who also never got past high school. This reteams director Jason Reitman with writer Diablo Cody who together made Juno.

See the trailer, clips, promos and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Black Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Twilight


Twilight

Can it really be young love if one of them is 114 years old?

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Cam Gigandet, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

We are all of us searching for something but none more than teenagers. Teenagers aren’t only looking to find love and acceptance, but also define who they are. When we find those answers, it’s usually the gateway into adulthood but sometimes those answers cost.

Bella Swan (Stewart) has had a difficult time of things. Her parents are divorced, her mom in Arizona having remarried a baseball player. Bella, a sensible sort, goes to live with her father (Burke), the Sheriff in the tiny western Washington town of Forks, Washington (a real place, by the way). As the new kid in a small school, Bella is big news and is fussed over by her new classmates both studly and dorky. She tries to fit in with her new friends but she notices a group of pale kids who hang out amongst themselves. This, she is told, is the Cullen clan, a group of foster kids being cared for by Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Facinelli), the town physician. They live in possibly the coolest home in Western Washington on the edge of town. One, in particular, nabs Bella’s interest; the smoldering, sexy Edward (Pattinson) who stares at her like his eyes have been glued to her.

Bella’s dad is being kept busy by a series of animal attacks in the area that have resulted in the deaths of several people, but he has time to have his friends Billy Black and his handsome son Jacob (Lautner) over. The long-haired native American Jacob hits it off with Bella and the two become friends.

Edward and Bella are assigned to be lab partners and despite Bella’s attraction to Edward, she is disturbed to discover that he feels quite the opposite about her, asking to transfer out of the biology class altogether. However, once they begin talking, a deep attraction begins to blossom. This is heightened when he saves Bella’s life by stopping an out of control truck from squashing her in the school parking lot, despite not being anywhere near her when the truck began its skid.

Suspicious at secrets Edward is apparently hiding, Bella does some research aided by stories told by her friend Jacob. She soon suspects that Edward might be a creature not unlike a vampire, which Edward eventually confesses that he is. However, vampires aren’t anything like how we’ve seen them in the movies; they don’t fear crosses or garlic and they are quite capable of being out in sunlight; however direct sunlight causes their skin to sparkle and annoying bells to ring. The sparkle announces that they aren’t human, but it might be those twinkling bells that make the Cullens unwilling to venture into the light.

Each of the Cullens (who don’t feed on human blood – they feed on animal blood instead, considering themselves kind of like vegetarians) has a different and unique power; Alice (Greene) can foretell the future for example. There are other vampires who prey on humans and their leader James (Gigandet) has his sights set on Bella, so Bella’s in danger but worse yet the prom is coming up and you thought your high school prom had drama…

Of course this is based on the staggeringly popular young adult fiction series by Stephenie Meyer which has sold about a gigillion books, mostly to teenaged and pre-teen girls but also to a surprising number of their mothers. I’ve heard the books described as “Harlequin Romances for teens written by Stephen King” which may be a bit harsh. Nonetheless, there is an element of truth to it.

First and foremost, understand that this isn’t a traditional vampire movie and it isn’t a traditional teen drama movie either. It’s not even a traditional romance. What it actually turns out to be is elements of all three genres wrapped up into a neat little package. While many critics (and film fanboys) openly sneer at the franchise, I actually found myself admiring it a little bit for trying something different than the traditional vampire movie with quivering virgins, buckets of blood and flaming vampires. There is actually very little gore or sex here. I also found myself giving the author marks for at least creating her own vampire mythology.

This movie was always going to live and die on the attractiveness of the leads and Stewart and Pattinson have all that they need. I seriously doubt this movie would have been anything near as popular without Pattinson as Edward; he is absolute catnip to teenaged girls, handsome and brooding and gentle all at once, yet fiercely protective. He is the ultimate boyfriend, and I don’t doubt that every teenaged girl who sees this will be holding up their boyfriends and potential boyfriends up in comparison to this guy, which is going to make for a lot of disappointed teenagers.

Stewart, who was one of the best things about Into the Wild has a very girl-next-door kind of look to her. She is meant to be strong, smart and kind – someone teenaged girls are meant to want to be like. Da Queen found it amusing that with all the romantic drama going on in this girl’s life she never once snapped at her parents but this is a fantasy after all.

This is a nice-looking movie that makes ample use of the Pacific Northwest scenery to create an overall tone. However, the movie had a pretty light budget (given that tiny Summit Entertainment was making it) and some of the special effects seem a little chintzy. I suspect that given its overwhelming box office success, future installments will have better-looking SFX than this.

In some ways, reviews for movies like this are superfluous; their target audience is going to see them over and over again regardless of what any critic says. For the rest of us it’s adequate entertainment and not nearly as bad as some have made it out to be. Keep in mind it is geared towards teens in a big way and that anyone my age – heck, anyone over thirty – aren’t going to relate to it as closely as those under thirty. That’s okay too; in some ways I’m quite glad I’m well past relating to these kinds of movies. Still, if you have a teenaged daughter or want to know more about what teenaged girls are thinking, here is your opportunity to get some insight. Oh, and the soundtrack is surprisingly amazing as well.

WHY RENT THIS: This is an entirely new mythology for vampires. Pattinson and Stewart make an attractive couple. The beauty of the Pacific Northwest plays an integral element in the movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The teen soap opera elements may make this a difficult pill to swallow for vampire film fans. The special effects don’t hold up against other modern films.

FAMILY VALUES: A little violence and teen sex make this suitable for teens and tweens; the movie may not be suitable for smaller sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the release date of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was pushed out to July 2009, Summit moved Twilight into that desirable pre-Thanksgiving weekend spot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a trio of music videos, as well as footage of the cast’s appearance at Comic-Con. Be prepared to hear a whole lot of teenaged girls screaming.

FINAL RATING: 5/10 (but if you’re a teenaged/pre-teen girl or their mom, 10/10)

TOMORROW: Gran Torino