Charlize Theron stars as a ghostwriter of cheesy children’s fiction, returning to her now too-small hometown to rekindle the flames of a high school love. Unfortunately, all we get is our noses rubbed in her incompetence, from an opening pan shot of industrial Minneapolis to an almost obligatory social freak-out scene revealing her dizzying narcissistic delusion. All in all, it makes for a film that’s a lot less subtle than, say, Bridesmaids, but the rest is relentlessly worse and served up without a shred of wit.
It’s hard to begin documenting all the squandered promise delivered in Young Adult, brought to us by the people behind the delicately calibrated Juno. You could start with the brilliant title, though, which implies a far more literate (and original) film that plays romantic adolescent idealism against the yucky shocks American girls are heir to. Instead, the filmmakers settled for a watered-down version of Rachel Getting Married, in which a young Anne Hathaway played against type to give itchy life to a troubled character fresh out of rehab. But that film had a sense of humor, a depth of horror, and an almost psychedelic beauty, and sadly, this film has little of the above, which goes completely against expectations.
One of the most promising aspects of Juno was the discovery of screenwriter Diablo Cody by director Jason Reitman. Together they seemed to have unlocked a new generation, though many young people thought otherwise. Without doubt, though, they told the story in a torrent of one-liners and savvy-sounding quips, circled with liberal dashes of indie music and cute animation, all of which became much imitated. Nobody wanted to see them Xerox Juno after Reitman’s Oscar-nominated Up in the Air, but everybody expected more than this. And it isn’t just Cody’s script; Reitman films it all schizophrenically, alternating between God’s-eye views and handheld jitter-scope tracking.
Let’s be brutal: The casting, cinematography, story, and dialogue in this film are second rate. In interviews, Reitman said that pushed just a little farther, this might have been a horror film. For sure, it would have been a better movie.