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Feature


Self-absorbed ex-prom queen Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is the 37-year-old, divorced ghostwriter of the ‘Waverly Prep’ young adult novel series. Mavis is on deadline with her editor to finish the last book of the soon-to-be-canceled series, and dealing poorly with her writer’s block. While avoiding work, she reads an email with pictures of the newborn daughter of her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). Mavis takes the photo as a sign she and Buddy are meant to be together, and returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, to reclaim her life under the pretense of overseeing a real estate deal. When she arrives she bumps into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), another ex-high school acquaintance that once admired her from the hallway locker next to hers and who survived a brutal beating from students that assumed he was gay. As Mavis tries to reconnect with Buddy, she and Matt develop an unlikely friendship.

 Young Adult
Young Adult achieved notoriety in film circles for the mere fact that it reunited the Juno directing/screenwriting team of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. Since the surprise commercial and critical success of Juno Reitman has kept his directing credits pretty sparse, but did manage to score more Oscar nominations for his follow-up, Up in the Air. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Up in the Air, which I thought felt more like an Alexander Payne movie than a Jason Reitman movie (I’m actually working on my review of Payne’s The Descendants right now). I also went on to accuse the young director of getting a free ride to the top, getting huge praise and Oscar nominations for generally average films. With Young Adult Reitman has finally made a movie I’d consider Best Picture worthy, and no one was even nominated in any category. Lesson to Reitman: keep making middling crowd pleasers, don’t fan out into something more mature and interesting. Cody’s growth since Juno impresses me more, and the not so subtle autobiographical implications don’t strike me as self-absorbed because they, gag, speak to a bigger truth in so many of us. Cody is clearly satirizing herself and her penchant for writing mouthfuls of hyper-hipster dialogue here, but doing it with a straight face, and is having an active discussion with her audience. I’d like to be mean and say that the somewhat crude manner she blends Mavis’ story with the vapid book she’s writing doesn’t work, but it really does, and bookends things quite nicely. She still has issues with forcing her characters to state the obvious, which garbles some of her subtext, but for most part this is Cody’s film even more than Reitman’s, and the lack of Oscar praise is just that much sadder (especially considering how much better this script is than Juno’s).

The opening sequence of Young Adult hits way too close to home. Mavis is a slacker writer who works from home, and lives in Minneapolis (I live in a Minneapolis suburb, but it’s basically the same difference). She wakes up with the TV already on, messes around, types a sentence, and then immediately opens an internet page. The production design in her apartment, though girly, is also entirely too accurate. She even has a brief battle with her inkjet printer. The prevailing sense of arrested development, captured so brilliantly in the word-play title, is crushing, as is the fact that it’s so agonizingly authentic. The film’s prevailing tone is much darker and aloof than the trailers would lead you to believe, which is probably bad for Juno fans, but a good thing for Reitman and Cody. Especially Cody, since Reitman already did the whole ‘everything’s sad until the end’ thing with Up in the Air. It’s also good, because even though I was warned how different the film was tonally from its trailers, I was still taken aback. Occasionally the stale, navel-gazing style can feel overwhelming, but Reitman sticks to the repetitious details with purpose, and inserts his audience in the same listless purgatory where his characters suffer.

 Young Adult
There’s very little of what most folks would consider ‘funny’ in this comedic fabric, but the themes of nostalgia aren’t all played tragically, leaving room for some pleasant contrast between Mavis and Matt’s depressing emotional retardation and other characters’ charming recollections of high school life. Reitman continues to develop his pacing and editing practices as well, ensuring that the sense of ennui doesn’t bog down the film’s pacing. Charlize Theron is, of course, no stranger to ‘dressing down’ for a role, but this performance is still special in that almost nothing of the glamorous model we see selling make-up on television appears on screen. This is a particularly ‘brave’ role simply because Mavis is an almost entirely unlikable protagonist. She’s obsessed with reality TV pageantry, her eyes hatefully judge everything Americana about Mercury, and she physically transforms herself through montage into several different ‘dolls’ that she assumes will impress Buddy. And she doesn’t change. She ends the movie the same terrible, shallow person. Patton Oswalt is, not surprisingly, the ultimate champion any time he appears on screen and he does it with what appears to be zero effort. His lack of Oscar credit really did sting the most.

 Young Adult

Video


Shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras, and framed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Young Adult looks clean and shiny on Blu-ray. Reitman and cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s simple styles don’t leave a lot of room for anything spectacular, but there are plenty of perfectly captured natural details and textures to please the eye and exercise the pixels. The digital photography is smooth, but skin and clothing textures are still well defined, and background patterns and complexities are sharp without blocking effects or pixilation. The natural look also leads to a whole lot of diversity in the palette, from rich green and blue outdoor shots, to subtle, warm and brown interiors. Theron’s pink and baby blue getups provide some nice pop, as do the neon signs of the bar scenes. Gradations are smooth without banding or drastic digital noise. The deepest, darkest night sequences feature practically perfect black levels, and incredibly sharp golden highlights that ensure no important detail is lost.

Audio


There isn’t a whole lot to say about this particular DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack outside of the fact that it gets the job done with a modicum of effort. The sound design is extremely low key, mostly made up of soft-spoken discussion undercut with just a hair of background ambience. I’m sure there was some crowd noise in the bar and party sequences that makes its way into the stereo and surround channels, but I didn’t notice it without physically getting up and standing inches from a specific speaker, not including the center channel. Composer Rolfe Kent keeps things minimalist, halcyon, and a bit melancholy, which is kind of his MO. This means the musical score doesn’t do a lot for the soundtrack’s potency either, though it still offers plenty of natural fidelity and warm bass. The loudest bits usually pertain to the pop and rock music the characters listen to on screen, and the frequency and dynamic range of these changes with the music’s source (jukebox, car stereo, television).

 Young Adult

Extras


The extras begin with a commentary track featuring director Jason Reitman, cinematographer Eric Steelberg and first assistant director/associate producer Jason A. Blumenfeld. This track mostly matches the team’s Up in the Air track in terms of content and tone. Reitman is again in charge, for the most part, and guides us through the specifics of each scene with a jovial voice. There are blank spaces and lapses in momentum throughout, but generally things are pleasant and informative, from big production stories, to silly little details about the script, characters and set dressing. If I have any complaint it’s that everyone here speaks so softly I couldn’t understand everything said.

Next up is Misery Loves Company: The Making of Young Adult (17:30, HD), a look at the film’s production including interviews with writer Diablo Cody (who is sadly missed on the commentary), director Jason Reitman, producers Mason Novak, Helen Estabrook, Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith, cinematographer Eric Steelberg, cast members Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Reaser, Patton Oswalt, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins and Patrick Wilson. This featurette focuses mostly on the screenplay, tone, casting and characters. The Awful Truth: Deconstructing a Scene (6:20, HD) covers the production of scene 82, where Mavis and Matt get wasted and complain about cousin Mike. It includes interviews with Cody, Reitman, Theron and Oswalt, footage from less successful takes (including adlibs), and raw footage from the set. This is followed by an amusing Jacob Burns Film Center Q&A with Janet Maslin and Jason Reitman (46:00, HD), and six deleted scenes (7:00, HD).

 Young Adult

Overall


Young Adult is what I’d consider the first genuinely great film from either director Jason Reitman or writer Diablo Cody. It sees both artists branching off from their comfort zones, and hopefully signifies more change from each in the future. It’d be nice to see them reteaming ever five or so years down the road to build up a unique body of films that define certain aspects of the early 2010s. This Blu-ray release looks great thanks to some smart HD photography, sounds pretty bland thanks to a low key sound mix, and features a solid commentary track, along with brief, but informative featurettes, and deleted scenes.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Young Adult

 Young Adult

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