The quote has been attributed to worldly wise philosopher Keith Richards: No matter how beautiful a woman is, there's a man somewhere who is sick of her.
For tall, blonde and boozy Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), that man is Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Twenty years ago, high school sweethearts Mavis and Buddy were the big fish in the small pond of Mercury, Minn. But they drifted apart, and Mavis swam upstream to Minneapolis, where she floated in a pool of vodka and ghost-wrote a series of young-adult novels about a popular teen.
When Mavis learns that Buddy has spawned a family, she smells blood in the water and returns to Mercury to seize the prey.
In the hands of a director like Garry Marshall, a writer like Nora Ephron and a star like Julia Roberts circa 1990, "Young Adult" could have been a romantic farce with a happy ending. In the hands of Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody and the never-better Theron, it's a scary-sad dramedy that never lets us off the hook.
Reitman and Cody were co-conspirators on "Juno," but that teen-pregnancy satire was an after-school special compared to "Young Adult." The bombshell ingredient is Theron, who wields her statuesque beauty like a baseball bat. After Mavis has trashed her own life, she keeps swinging at everyone else's, from dim-bulb Buddy to his saintly wife (Elizabeth Reaser) to a crippled barfly named Matt (Patton Oswalt) who was snubbed by Mavis in high school and is now free to tell her she's a crazy stalker.
Yet Mavis and Matt are mirror images of arrested development, and they play-act a foggy friendship in the garage where he keeps his action figures and home-brewed hootch. Oswalt, the stand-up comedian who was unashamedly great as a schlubby sports-radio addict in the overlooked indie "Big Fan," is poignant here as the unhealed victim of a hate crime. So the blunt resolution of his subplot is particularly devastating.
Clear-eyed, fearless and ferociously funny, "Young Adult" is mature filmmaking.
Three and a half stars (out of four) • Rating R • Run time 1:34 • Content Strong language and some sexual content