April 17, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Young Adult

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Young Adult

Today's movie: Young Adult, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the very first movie by Gen-X writer Diablo Cody that sounded like something I actually wanted to see -- the story of an arrogant, sociopathic ghost-author of a famous Young Adult series (Charlize Theron in a career-defining performance), in her late thirties and living the good hipster life in Minneapolis, who slowly has a nervous breakdown from the twin news of the series' cancellation and her high-school sweetheart having his first child, and who travels back to her small Minnesota hometown while in the middle of this breakdown under the misguided belief that said ex-boyfriend is a "prisoner of suburbia" who needs to be rescued.

The reality: Wow. WOW. So yes, I confess, I cried like a little girl through several of this movie's scenes, a film that turned out to be a lot more powerful and emotionally moving than I had been expecting from its light-hearted trailer; but I also acknowledge that a big part of that was because of seeing a lot of myself in Theron's put-upon aging hipster Mavis Gary (or at least, a lot of myself at an earlier age), a happily self-deluded artist just barely squeaking by, who is forced to confront her mostly meaningless life when that one last justification for calling herself a "professional writer" dries up, but who is utterly unequipped emotionally to deal with said confrontation. And I have to say, another big part of what makes this script work, and what turned out to be a really brilliant move on Cody's part, was to make all her former high-school cohorts actually pretty happy with their humdrum suburban lives; because by going back and finding not John Cheever horror stories but goofy "indie-rock moms" playing in weekend bands and writing foodie blogs, Mavis is forced against her will to acknowledge just how miserable her own life has become up in "the Mini-Apple," which fuels most of the conflicts of the film and that nicely builds towards evermore unbalanced and even despicable behavior.

But on the other hand, another big thing that makes this movie work so well is that great denouement at the end, when Cody admits through her fictional doppelganger that the suburban indie-rock-mommy life is not for everyone; that for a small amount of truly talented creative professionals, the poverty-stricken and constantly struggling quest to stay true to your artistic vision is highly worth it. That's the big difference between Young Adult and most other films that worship suburban mediocrity, and why it is that I despise It's a Wonderful Life and other such "it's wrong to have big dreams" propaganda; because while Cody admits here that giving up on big dreams really is the correct choice for most people, she pushes the point that this isn't right for everyone, and that for a character like Mavis to do so (and by extension Cody herself, and by further extension any true artist entering middle age who still hasn't had a big success yet) would amount to soul-killing emotional suicide. Granted, you need to handle that struggle better than Mavis does here, a lesson that all aging artists are forced to learn at one point or another; but I have to say, I really love that Cody doesn't take the easy way out here and make Mavis into just another mommy-blogger at the end, the cop-out which 99 out of every 100 Hollywood screenwriters would've taken without a second thought if writing this script themselves. It's touches like those that make Cody so incredibly admired by her fans, and I have to say that I'm fully on board the fanboy train myself now, and might even go back and rent Juno and read Candy Girl because of it. Needless to say, the movie comes highly recommended to one and all.

Strangest piece of trivia: The Mini Cooper that Theron drives throughout this movie is identical to the one she drove in The Italian Job.

Worth your time? YES

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:14 PM, April 17, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |