Monday, October 22, 2012

Young Adult

2011, Jason Reitman -- netflix

I couldn't get the image of Patton Oswalt's horrifically bent penis out of my mind for weeks after seeing this movie.  Oh, we don't ever see it in the film, but Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf -- a character who was the victim of extreme bullying in high school, resulting in a brutal beat down that has left him permanently scarred and crippled -- with such commitment, such conviction, and such humanity that the nightmare that is his cock, as graphically described in the film, remains a part of my nightmares.

I've been a huge fan of Oswalt as a stand-up comedian for well over half a decade, and have been rooting for him as an actor since he left King of Queens behind him.  He's a gifted comedian, but as an actor the kind of roles he plays here in Young Adult and his starring turn in Big Fan prove that equally he's a gifted actor.  While he can handle comedic roles, he handles the dept of damaged people with both ease and understanding.  It's in large part that he's playing roles that suit him... dark, depressed, dry... but at the same time he's not the typical sadsack schlub, he's much richer than that.  These kinds of dark comedies allow Oswalt to expose his raw nerves, eliciting smiles, sympathy and perhaps a little scorn.  Matt Freehauf isn't a dyed in the wool crank, but he's on his way, and Oswalt show a character who has put up many walls, but isn't finished barricading himself in yet.

I should note that Oswalt's Freehauf isn't the star of the film.  He's the primary supporting character, but it's a showcase role for a character actor.  He doesn't necessarily upstage Charlize Theron, a gifted actress with infinite tricks in her bag, but he matches her in every scene and, for this film at least, steps up on screen as her equal.  Theron's Mavis Gary is a downright nasty human being.  She what the popular princesses in high school turn into when they're left unchecked and unchallenged.  She's achieved success, to a degree, but it's on the wane, about to crash like her marriage did.  Depressed and suffering from writers block when she receives a photo of her high school boyfriend's newborn daughter, she sets out to her home town to rescue him and/or reclaim him.

Mavis' worldview is completely self-centered, but to the point of being blind any true awareness of herself.  Her depressive state is so foreign to her, she's completely unaware of the condition she's found herself in.  She meets Freehauf and the two exchange cantankerous barbs, seemingly sensing that neither could inflict more damage upon them then they already do themselves, they form an unexpected camaraderie.

As Mavis' misguided ploy to steal Buddy away from his wife an child accelerates, Mavis gets further and further away from self awareness, until she crashes headlong into it.  Truly facing herself for the first time, understanding how others see her, how she presents herself, she hangs on the precipice of change, of growth.  Diablo Cody delivers in both Mavis and Freehauf two characters, flipsides of the same coin of depression (just one of many different types of two-faced coins), one who seemingly has everything going for them but can't make anything work, the other who seeming has nothing going for them and makes next to no effort to try to make it work.  They're richly textured creations, who, in certain lights, are not great people, but there's equally enough insight into their character, and enough compassion from both director Reitman and the performances to not only follow them for 90 minutes, but hope for them that things will get better.

Of course, it seems Reitman likes to veer in the opposite direction at the last minute, denying the usual happy endings -- certainly in his previous effort Up In The Air in which Vera Farmiga turns into the world's biggest C-word out of the blue and crushes George Clooney, a left-field turn that literally destroyed the movie for me -- and here he does it again, though not to the same damaging degree, as Mavis faces self-awareness and self-consciousness for the first time, only to be talked down off the decent human being ledge.  It's not a badly written scene but it takes a rich and rewarding character redemption arc and undoes it with the cartoon-like subtlety of an anvil.  As I note, it doesn't ruin the entire picture, but it's a blunt ending where it needs a little softness.
david's take