I was a fan of Jason Reitman’s first two features: Thank You For Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007)—though both were critically acclaimed, particularly Juno, they experienced a good bit of backlash in the cinephile community, which dismissed Reitman as a smug, trite filmmaker without a trace of subtlety. Though I saw traces of this in both pictures, I found the writing and characters to be interesting enough to overcome it. With Up in the Air (2009), though, Reitman’s flaws began to feel more prevalent and less excusable. If anything, success seemed to have given him an air of entitlement: characters seemed formulaic, writing sloppy. Though Up in the Air also garnered a lot of praise in the mainstream, I found myself starting to shift away, even though I didn’t actively dislike the film. That feeling of excitement one gets when a favorite director has a new movie in the pipeline was definitely gone with Jason Reitman.
Now we have Young Adult, for which I had moderate (at best) expectations for. Alas, it’s easily the worst in his canon thusfar. If Up in the Air had a certain cavalier attitude in its direction, Young Adult is downright lazy. There’s absolutely nothing creative. Self-loathing, newly divorced former high school beauty and published writer trying to rekindle an old flame to give herself a sense of self-worth? Maybe there’s some potential there, but Mavis (a pretty good Charlize Theron) is written without a stroke of oomph. Mavis has all the traits that a screenwriting student might write in a homework assignment for the genre: she drinks too much, gorges on fast food, and generally wallows in her own misery, oblivious that others around her like Matt (Patton Oswalt of Big Fan) have it much, much worse.The supporting characters aren’t any better—they’re all one-note, including Matt, who has a mirroring “crutch” and propensity to live in the past in a cloud of excuses, and Buddy (Patrick Wilson), the aforementioned old flame who’s now happily married with an infant daughter, yet seems oblivious to Mavis’s master plan until it’s shoved down his throat.
From the beginning, any competent moviegoer can predict almost every plot development, including the predictable finale when Mavis, full of anger and frustration, reaches a breaking point, blows up…and then has the magical epiphany during a chat with Matt’s sister where it all clicks, and Young Adult ends with, yes, Mavis understanding that it’s time to let go of her youthful crushes and love of tequila shots, embrace what she has, and grow the fuck up. In short, ditch the “young,” keep the “adult,” and the quality of life will dramatically improve. What a concept! All that keeps Young Adult from being a truly wretched picture is the acting, which isn’t award caliber or anything like that, but is mostly strong across the board, particular Theron in the lead role. Otherwise, the contrived Young Adult offers next to nothing: Reitman continues his downward spiral, and I continue to sympathize more and more with those who found him supremely irritating from the start.