Diablo Cody (writer of Juno and Jennifer’s Body) has a fascination with high school, whether it’d be young adults – quick-witted awkward teenagers whose years of experience is three times their actual age – or functioning adults with an oblivious perception to how they have not grown up. While Jennifer’s Body is an entity unto itself, (we’ll pretend it never existed and that Megan Fox doesn’t ruin movies) Young Adult is a theoretical extension of Juno, as well as a complete flip of mentalities and maturity levels between the main protagonists. Juno is the stereotypical “screen teenager”, a character that has become common place in film and television. Quirky and head-strong to a fault, these young men and women are modernized versions of the 19080’s geek, glorified and now deemed cool. Young Adult’s Mavis Gary (Theron) is a character filled with fresh complexities, unlike any female protagonist the film industry has seen in the last 5-10 years, and perhaps in a longer.
Several archetypes dominate the film industry:
The Man-Child – characterized by a severe inhibition to do anything other than get drunk, sleep, and hope that the clothes on his floor will wash themselves, or a naked girl will slither out from underneath. Certain types of Man-Children exist who have stable careers, but are constantly bad-mouthing their wives/children, or are completely submissive to the latter – stunted in puberty, escaping responsibility and more lost than The Lost Boys themselves. These “men” do not need a girlfriend to whip them into shape, they need a mother. They need the tough love of mothering and the occasional backhand of a father, a man’s man.
The Damsel in Distress – classically, a female who placed in a precarious situation and must be rescued by a prince (or Male Warrior). The Indiana Jones Saga saw a lot of these women crying out his name in shrill voices. In modern film, this archetype can largely be found in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi genres, al la Bella Swan and various female victims of psychotic, murdering men. Quentin Tarantino flips this archetype with Death Proof and a lot of violence against woman is graphically portrayed in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The Chick that Fights Crime in Skimpy Outfits and High Heals – Suckerpunch – enough said.
The Male Warrior – 300 and The Departed – enough said.
Back to Young Adult:
Mavis is The Woman-Child. She has the qualities of a Femme-Fatale, but her own one-track determination ends up destroying her own world in the end, clear it’s a self-imposed fantasy from the beginning even if it seems like a decison made on a whim. Despite her major flaw being the catalyst that drives the storyline, there is something heart-breaking about her character; she is stuck in a particular stage of adolescence. Mavis is clearly unfulfilled with her state of affairs at the beginning of the film, and feels the need to travel back to a place where she last felt her life was perfect – her hometown to relive high school. The only crack in her confident veneer is a nervous tick of pulling out her hair, leaving an empty patch of skin on the back of her head.
Mavis’s intense focus on stealing her high school sweetheart from his wife leaves little breathing room for the audience throughout the film. The audience is fully immersed in the awkward tension she creates for the other characters, but it’s carefully balanced as to not let the audience slip into a realm of extreme discomfort. One character from her past, Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), who is undoubtedly The Man-Child of the film, doesn’t necessarily let Mavis get away with her entertainingly immoral comments and lets her know how much buffoonery she’s spewing. In the end, their loneliness gets the better of them and they share a night of questionable passion, before Mavis realizes that she’s wasted her time coming back to her hometown, goes back to the “Mini-Apple” to finish her novel and hopefully grow into full-fledged adulthood.
Young Adult is a fantastic film for psychiatrists and people-watchers alike. It covers a large age demographic and connects seamlessly with their own experiences during and after high school, regardless who loved it and who hated it – a gem of a film worth spending your money on.