One of the best and most underrated comedies of late is Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s 2011 film “Young Adult”. Far better than their previous collaboration (2007’s “Juno”), “Young Adult” boasts Oscar-worthy performances by Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt and is far more complex than its (fairly funny) preview would make you think.
The plot does seem sitcom simple: high school queen bitch who made good goes back to her hometown under the delusion she can get her now-married boyfriend back. However, while Theron does play a fairly rotten human being, it’s far from a one-dimensional portrayal. Like everyone else, her character has had her share of disappointments and heartbreak. Theron does make you feel for her, even though (as said earlier) her character is pretty awful.
Conversely, the people around her (who would normally be her straight, normal foils) are not let off the hook, either. While they are much better people than Theron’s character, Cody shows that they have their own human moments, as well. Patton Oswalt’s disabled character drowns his bitterness in booze and self-pity. Her otherwise nice and easy-going ex-boyfriend has a subtle, but unmistakable moral lapse. Even her ex-boyfriend’s wife, who is seen as flawless, has her own issues. If not, then why would she invite her husband’s bitchy ex-girlfriend to her baby shower unless it was meant as a subtle (or not-so-subtle) “f–k you”?
All of this may sound heavy handed, but Reitman/Cody handle it in a wonderfully subdued manner. One of the film’s strengths is how so much detail is conveyed about each character without calling attention to it. It’s not what I would call a “feel-good” comedy, but it’s often hilarious in a “hide your eyes and cringe” kind of way. If you’re a fan of Larry David or Louis C.K., you’ll probably dig it.