After the success of Up in the Air director Jason Reitman is clearly qualified and justified in tackling a different aspect of white-collared self-delusion.
It’s personified here in the blond bitch persona of Mavis Gary (Theron) who returns home to small-town Mercury, Minnesota, from a career of lowbrow literary success with the intention of winning back former boyfriend Buddy (Wilson), whose happy marriage and recently acquired father status are inadmissible proof that he made the right decisions and she did not. Mavis is fully aware that her pursuit of happiness will cause casualties, and we are intermittently encouraged to hope that she might come a cropper.
Her shallowness – simultaneously underscored by TV images of the Kardashians and undermined by a score featuring indie rock anthems – is challenged when she begins to engage with a high school nerd and outcast (Oswalt). What begins as a drinking partnership in a small town that exists in a flux of (what Mavis sees as) mediocrity and moderation ends in a moment of fellowship, enabling her, briefly, to accept her sorry state.
We know Theron can do big acting. What she delivers here is a study in nuance, moving from denial to acceptance and back as she ponders her perceived successes and failures in a flawed environment. You might find yourself doing the same thing – but Reitman’s film helps sweeten the pill.
Young Adult | Directed by Jason Reitman (USA 2011) with Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt. Starts February 23