…and the quest to see everything

2011: I am Mavis Gary

This recreates my mental state three days before Valentine’s Day. It ain’t pretty.

A conversation I had with a critic – the same person with whom I was discussing Dragon Tattoo – eventually got us discussing Jason Reitman’s Young Adult. I agree with him, it’s a zombie walk where hack writer and man stealing slore Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron) converses with her high school co-alum Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) as a way of Diablo Cody talking to herself like, pardon the comparison, Ingmar Bergman with hoodies and home brewed whiskey. It’s only energized by Mavis’ blood curdling speech at the end. A villain’s tirade before leaving an all-American environment – in this case it’s Mercury, Minnesota, a small town provenance she’s seemingly outgrown – and her departure typically resulting with the other good-natured characters hugging and keeping their relationships intact and so forth. That speech is one of the elements within the movie that riskily decides to side with Mavis despite her being an intentionally terrible person and I give brownie points for those things.

His criticism against Young Adult stems from how it tries to both mock and pander to opposite sides of whatever line the movie draws to divide Mavis from the other characters. There’s the use of “Kourtney and Kim Take New York” among many uses of pop culture to either make fun of lowbrow culture, the working class reassured that the middle class is more pathetically trashy. In short, condescending to both classes but mostly to the townies who don’t even know what ‘the TV’ is. Keep in mind that it’s screenwriter Diablo Cody doing the finger-pointing, funny enough because she has appeared on the E! Network as well as being engaged to someone who works there. Also keep in mind that I watch and secretly love “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.”

It’s like a rom-com making fun of Katherine Heigl like Friends with Benefits does. It’s equally hurtful when an intellectual like Woody Allen makes fun of us. But Young Adult shows my reflection pointing back, a flawed conceit that my reflection is an ugly mean girl AND Charlize Theron. The rich make fun of us whether they’re classy or trashy and I still feel ambivalent knowing that these masks of class, education and breeding are in place against others.

What he also finds smug is something that, despite deeming the movie passable, I also could never make peace with – she’s one of the unique cases who, despite being love struck, only chooses one target for her supposed goodwill if at all. Why is Dolce-clad Mavis still holding out for Buddy Slaide (Patrick Wilson), who has unkempt facial hair, wears thick plaid jackets without being ironic and works in a factory? Just because Patrick Wilson has cheated on his wife in many miniseries/movies doesn’t mean he’ll cheat on her for you this time, Mavis. I don’t even know if he has sex drive in this movie at all.

This perpetual high school reunion one-upmanship happens all the time. Someone created the Twitter handle @FriendFromHS for this purpose. Or like what I used to do during the first year I joined Facebook – I’m trying to forget that someone else might be doing the same to me – and laughed at how this guy got fat and so forth despite not being able to find my man who got away who by the way is straight. I should actually do that now because looking at him will make me feel good about myself, hoping he finally signed up.

Oh my God he got hotter.

And I don’t care if he’s the kind of guy who takes pictures of himself in his bathroom without closing the shower curtains, holding the camera in his hand in front of the mirror because he can’t figure out how to use the timer, accessorizes with cubic zirconium bling and befriends girls who spell ‘sexxxy’ or ‘chineese’ (He’s white. Aryan, even). His face is in the same immaculate state when we were both young, belonging to better clothes and a svelte body.

If he blocks me, I wanted to write the typical ‘I hope you’re not offended by the past’ thing. But I always had a speech prepared if I see him. That there have been others after him – ‘after’ despite him not reciprocating in any sense of the word. That I thought he was the one and that those others made me feel lost, that I didn’t know what love is when I fell out of my infatuation for him. But now that I can see him again that changes everything. I could have pressed enter and told him everything, making me seem crazy if I didn’t have a friend to stop me.

The artist is someone who insists on content, form and image – especially image’s importance – despite others perceiving it as unapproachable. Her present is everyone else’s past, she views it as nostalgia but others perceive it as stubbornness. She performs this past ad nauseam but never tires because of its comforting rituals. She’s a risk taker in her eyes but that doesn’t matter if the others see madness or chooses not to see her at all, their rejection making her lose everything. This creation or dedication is caused by love and some conceive love, giving into love and to another person, as containing destruction. Love forces a person to change for the other person, to create herself anew, making her lose her individuality. But love can also be an instinct against outside forces and this form of stasis could lead to the same destruction she’s been trying to avoid.

Sorry about that insanity, although I wanted to talk about that. It’s been a long time since Young Adult came out, but what I remember from its criticism is Mavis as an unsympathetic character or her place within the movie’s class boundaries. But what about her character’s mental state? Most movies about the insane are pretty self-centred, the other characters are either supporting her convalescence or driving her to madness. We see the other characters through Mavis’ warped prism, blocking them, their relevations of ‘I feel sorry for you’ seemingly tacked on and coming out of left-field. Are we not seeing her mental condition because she looks like she has her shit together or am I using her state as an excuse? Buddy’s wife gets a whiff of her condition and I don’t know if it sticks. And her presence within Mavis’ peripheral vision causes for new lines to drive up between them, making the movie problematic.

P.s. I still haven’t added him yet.

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4 responses

  1. Nice review. The movie and your reflections reminded my why I don’t want to go back to my small town. I definitely see the class dynamics that you mention, but I think the film also brings that same biting attention to the two sides of the “adult” divide. The young adults with dreams, and the older adults who have “settled in” or “sold out”, depending on your perspective.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:03 am

    • I would never have seen the “selling out” or “settling in” angle. Yes, Matt’s sister does bring that division up, as she wishes she could have gotten out of Mercury like Mavis has. But there’s a little part of Mavis that wants to have settled in with either Matt or Buddy and lead a “normal life.” One wants what the other has got. Mavis’ getting out of dodge mentality prevails, and many say that’s for the better.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:52 am

  2. This. Ugh, Paolo, this is just @WEJ@##(#!#WODSWES.

    Anyhow, Young Adult issues for me are rooted more in Reitman’s direction than Cody’s writing and if there’s any thing I don’t like about her writing is how at the end she can’t seem to decide if she WANTS the supporting cast to be viewed completely through Mavis’ lenses or if she wants them to be “real” but ultimate I love the script. Reitman’s direction often comes off to me as clunky. And, can I just say I don’t get the Oswalt love. Certainly good, but I don’t get how he’s so superlative and no one even gives Wilson a pat on the back. Ah well. Charlize smoulders.

    February 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    • Crazy? Stupid? Love?

      Anyway, I think that the audiences who watch this movie should be smart enough to know that Mavis’ worldview is wonky but it’s as if Cody doubts herself and lets the supporting character seep through in those last fifteen or so minutes. And it’s the worst kind of material that Reitman could be working on or with because of the one-sidedness. It’s Cody’s more ambitious script although most ambitious might not also mean best.

      And Oswalt probably only got lauded because he’s playing sanity which should be a cakewalk compared to what Theron has to do.

      February 26, 2012 at 3:34 am

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