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Dueling Reviews: "Young Adult"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Charlize Theron stars as a successful writer of young-adult fiction who returns to her hometown to win back her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who has long since moved on to a wife and kids. Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman, opens Dec. 16.

    Sasha Perl-Raver and Scott Ross both went into "Young Adult" with high expectations, but walked away with very different feelings about that they'd seen.

    Sasha: It may seem an odd comparison, but "Young Adult" reminded me a lot of "Cars 2." Obviously not thematically, but because they're both films felled by expectation. We know Pixar churns out an incomparable product, so, when they stumble, it's a tragic fall from grace. When Jason Reitman steps into the ring with a slugging record that includes "Thank You for Smoking" and "Up in the Air," you expect to be knocked out. Add to the equation a "Juno" reunion with Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for lines like, "Honest to blog," and you have a bubbling cauldron of anticipatory giddiness. Which may be why I was so let down. Following "Juno," Cody's writing has meandered from quirkily misguided ("United States of Tara") to downright loathsome ("Jennifer's Body") and "Young Adult" underwhelms because of her ineptitude. Meanwhile, Reitman has jettisoned his usual auteur flourishes for a flat, if beautifully acted, character study. Is the acting outstanding? Yes. But it's Charlize Theron. Duh. Of course she'll be great. And Patton Oswalt. You want funny, look no further. If this were a $2 million indie I stumbled upon at Sundance, I'd be all about it. But as studio awards fodder with an A-List star and Reitman at the wheel, I expected more.

    Scott: You haven't been this wrong since you got that haircut. For starters, the film's budget was only $12 million, so dissing it for being a lowly character study is way off base. And since when are character studies so bad? Done properly, as here, they offer brutally cutting insights into the very worst of us. And I, for one, was relieved to have Cody lay bare her most self-loathing introspection while not suffocating me with a barrage of hyper-ironic pop-culture references. All that said, this is easily Reitman's least interesting film to look at—it was as though he made that little cassette-deck montage and thought, "My work here is done!"

    Sasha: "The worst in all of us"? Come on, Ross, this isn't some illuminating, overarching morality tale; it's Cody's post-Oscar success diary entries dramatized. The reason it's humanized is because of Theron and Oswalt. Patrick Wilson, as the hometown hero Theron still pines for, left me cold. I couldn't understand why Reitman didn't call up his old buddy Aaron Eckhart in order to give the audience a real smoldering love interest we could lust after along with the leading lady.

    Scott: You're selling this film short--it's also a cautionary tale about what can happen in the absence of self-awareness, and the pitfalls of arrested development. And you cast yourself as the "gripe-y one," Miss "I Expected More." It's funny what you mention about Wilson vs. Eckhart, because to me they're very similar guys: they're super talented, uber handsome men who, for whatever reason, can't catch get any traction with audiences (though I share your preference for Eckhart). I was similarly disappointed that Reitman didn't bring back J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney to play Theron's parents.

    Sasha: I'll say it again, it's not that "Young Adult" is bad--let me be perfectly clear, I did like it, but "like" is such a wan aftertaste--I just wish it had more meat on its bones. I wanted "Young Adult" to rock my world, but it was more easy listening.

    Scott: I'll grant you that it's not a particularly muscular film, but I would hardly describe it as easy listening--I found it delightfully discomforting. I suspect the difference in our opinions about "Young Adult" stem mostly from the fact that you thought "Up in the Air" was a 9, while I thought it was a 5, but we'd both give "Young Adult" about a 7.5.

     

    "Young Adult" opens in limited release Friday, December 9th, but opens nationwide just a week later, on December 16th.