Gentlemen don’t prefer blondes in Young Adult, a scabrous black comedy about a faded beauty queen who clings on to the past to avoid acknowledging the loneliness and despair that hang over her like cheap perfume.
Penned by Diablo Cody, the film reunites the Oscar-winning screenwriter with director Jason Reitman following their collaboration on Juno.
This is a very different proposition: the youthful exuberance and sassy wit of the characters in the earlier film has mouldered into weariness and cynicism here, embodied by a conniving anti-heroine who attempts to woo back her married high school sweetheart.
Charlize Theron fearlessly sinks her teeth into the lead role, shedding her image as a glamour puss to embrace the questionable hygiene of a woman whose exercise regime comprises a quick burst on a video game fitness program while her unloved pet dog yaps outside on the balcony.
Cody doesn’t sugar-coat this bitter pill: the central protagonist is deeply unlikeable and once the end credits roll, it’s debatable if she has learned anything from her attempts to destroy the lives of decent, hard-working folk.
Mavis Gary (Theron) is a mediocre writer who lives in Minneapolis and has seen the popularity of her Waverly Prep novels for young adults wane.
Desperate for creative inspiration for the final book in the series, Mavis is distracted by an email from old boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) announcing the birth of their daughter.
Convinced that this is a sign from the universe that she should win back Buddy, Mavis travels to her hometown of Mercury, where she flirts outrageously with her former beau but he appears completely oblivious to the shortness of her skirt.
Another old class mate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), witnesses Mavis in action and he becomes her unwitting accomplice to wooing Buddy away from his wife and child.
“Here’s the deal. Buddy Slade and I are meant to be together, and I’m here to get him back,” she tells Matt.
Mavis doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process, noting, “Sometimes, in order to heal, a few people have to get hurt.”
Young Adult is distinguished by a stand-out performance from Theron, who relishes the ugliness of her character and doesn’t try to soften Mavis’s jagged edges.
Oswalt is an appealing and quirky sidekick and Wilson flashes a winning smile as the golden boy who seems naive to the destruction being wrought around his happy home.
Colourful supporting performances include Jill Eikenberry as Mavis’s mother, who has happy memories of her daughter’s failed attempt to walk down the aisle, cooing, “The wedding wasn’t a failure. Remember the tiramisu!”
Cody’s script eschews sentimentality and is peppered with some acidic one-liners.
Her determination to avoid convention catches the eye but doesn’t quite seduce the heart.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10
Released: February 3 (UK & Ireland), 93 mins