Director Jason Reitman made a very smart decision when approaching his new film Young Adult. His past two successes Juno and Up in the Air were stylized dramedies one with colorful dialogue and production design flourishes the other with precision camera work his director's hand evident at every turn. In his latest he pulls way back letting his lead character—a vile destructive former high school prom queen named Mavis (Charlize Theron)—do the talking. And talk she does—every word a stinging insult disillusioned wish holier-than-thou gripe or embarrassing truth. Reitman unleashes an unfiltered Theron and the results are gut-wrenching hilarious and powerful.
While working on her latest Sweet Valley High-esque book Mavis receives a mass e-mail from her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) announcing that he and his wife are expecting their first child. This sets a fire under Mavis' ass and after chugging a 2-Liter of Diet Coke and throwing on a Hello Kitty tee she hits the road to take back the man that's rightfully hers. Mavis shacks up in a drab hotel located in the heart of her small Minnesota hometown and immediately proceeds to the bar to indulge in her favorite pastime: pounding back whiskey. There she runs in to one of her forgettable high school classmates Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who she only recalls after being reminded of a horrendous gay bashing that left both his legs crippled ("And I'm not even gay."). The two form an unlikely friendship—Matt being enamored by Mavis' pathetic quest Mavis needing an ear to talk off.
Young Adult's simple premise allows writer Diablo Cody (Juno The United States of Tara) to move Mavis from depressing suburban local to depressing suburban local with ease creating a playground of homogenized perfection for Theron's foul behavior. Whether she open-mouth chewing on fried chicken at the local KFC/Taco Bell covering up last night's hangover with a fresh facial or seducing Buddy at the Applebee's-esque restaurant Mavis never falters always looking down at her surroundings finding excuses for why she's not the source of her own problems.
Theron's performance is fearless one of the few crass female performances shaded with human complexity and empathy. Young Adult is a very funny film that works because of its star's ability to teeter the edge of comical and truly unlikable. Oswalt and Wilson amplify the main performance embodying their own grounded characters to properly riff with the vulgar Mavis. Matt is a very Patton-y character to begin with but between is jokey back-and-forths with Mavis is an inherent sadness one Oswalt surfaces with a contrasting subtly. Unlike Mavis Matt has the ability to rise above is own plight and change. His new friend is tragically a lost cause. At times the film's story feels too narrow never allowing us to really explore Mavis' other relationships but it's hard to naysay for wanting more.
Few movies attempt to mine comedy out of the bleakness of everyday life; even fewer do so while twisting storytelling conventions. You watch Young Adult with hopes for Mavis but Reitman and Cody aren't ready to indulge you. In Theron they've found one of the few actresses in town who can simultaneously look like a conventionally gorgeous blonde bombshell and complete make-up-caked crap a woman with the balls to take a character who relishes in schadenfreude. They don't squander that talent. From the first to the umpteenth Teenage Fanclub sound cue Mavis is delusional caught up in her own fantasy and willing to execute it at any cost. It's a truly cringe-worthy mission but it works because sadly we all know someone like that.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Campbell Babbitt is a screwed-up emotionally lost prize-winning New York reporter who is sent to the small New Hampshire hometown of the first civilian astronaut Christa McAuliffe to cover the local celebration leading up to her ill-fated flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Instead he becomes enthralled by a scandal surrounding the apparent suicide of a beloved teacher and immerses himself into the lives of his former students. But as Babbitt gradually unravels some well-kept secrets he starts to get a little too close for comfort.
WHO’S IN IT?
Steve Coogan is perfect in What Goes Up as the morally-challenged reporter Babbitt conveying a strong sense of his own human failings as he tries to get closer to the students of a recently-deceased but much-loved teacher. In so doing he must also deal with another teacher (well-played by Molly Shannon) who tries to keep the story’s sordid details out of the paper. Where the film really comes alive is with the superb supporting cast led by an all-grown-up Hilary Duff as Lucy a scheming Lolita who is rumored to have been romantically involved with the dead prof — and who now has her sights set on Babbitt. Duff’s seductive presence proves she is an actress to watch. Also standing out are Olivia Thirlby (Juno) as a sly cunning pregnant student and Josh Peck as a kid who likes to watch. Max Hoffman son of Dustin also makes a strong impression in a smaller role.
Although it could have fallen into the familiar traps of a lot of teen-oriented comedies this compelling and completely original look at the dark side of heroes crackles with moral ambiguity and a cast of characters who aren’t always as they seem. What Goes Up also successfully examines our reactions to death in subtle and larger ways that aren’t always predictable. The colorful independent personalities placed under the microscope clearly don’t have ready answers and don’t always behave the way we think they might — or should.
The solid screenplay by Bob Lawson and director Jonathan Glatzer sometimes gets sidetracked by the impending Christa McAuliffe tragedy creating an underlying sideshow that’s not really that integral to the plot. It may make the story more relatable to audiences but considering the strength of the players on hand it feels unnecessary and rather obvious.
Watching Hilary Duff sexily try to seduce Coogan is a game-changer not just for her but for the audience that grew up watching her as a role model.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Since this sleeper indie film is being self-distributed theatrical exposure in 2009's crowed summer is going to be limited so your best bet is gonna be DVD.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Essentially about the offbeat relationship between two very distinct people with anything but normal families Gigantic centers around the search for meaning by Brian Weathersby a 29-year-old high-end mattress salesman who is looking for something to anchor his life to. He becomes determined to adopt a baby from China but soon gets involved in an unexpected and wholly different kind of romance when the quirky and pretty Harriet aka Happy wanders into his showroom and falls asleep on one of the beds. Along the way he must deal not only with her loudmouth father Al but also his own dippy parents and two older more successful brothers.
WHO'S IN IT?
When describing the charms of Gigantic all roads lead to Paul Dano who underplays Brian in a wonderfully droll deadpan-style reminiscent of the great Peter Sellers in Being There. Dano who has done this low-key kind of act before in Little Miss Sunshine is truly winning without expressing visible emotion and letting others play off his blank canvas. As Harriet Zooey Deschanel also takes what could be a one-note character and invests her with complexity and quirky humanity. You can't take your eyes off of her when she's on-screen. Veteran actors Edward Asner and John Goodman play the pair's fathers and both adapt their oversized personas beautifully to the precise rhythms established by the stars. Goodman gets great mileage out of his character's bad back problems and is better than he's been on screen in years. Jane Alexander as Brian's mother also has a couple of wonderful moments. Hot comedian Zach Galifianakis takes on the film's oddest role as a mysterious homeless man who keeps showing up to attack Brian.
Co-writer and first-time feature film director Matt Aselton takes a cue from directors like Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude Being There) and Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel in creating a tone and distinct minimalist sandbox for his actors to play in and it works beautifully for those in the audience who don't need every little detail explained. By dialing it way down he gets an aura of originality not attempted in many comedies these days.
By crossing the line between fantasy and reality and intentionally blurring his main character's emotional well-being a unique device is used throughout that will require patience and suspension of belief before its ultimate payoff toward the end. The less adventurous viewers may not want to make the investment.
A restaurant double-date between Dano Deschanel plus Goodman and his date is brilliantly written and acted as Brian is grilled in vivid detail by Harriet's take-no-prisoners dad.
BEST GREETING BY A STONER:
A slacker friend who has probably already smoked his lifetime supply of weed asks and answers his own question with every hello: "Hey dude What's up? Not much."
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
If you can find this indie gem in theaters go! But it should be hitting the video shelves before you can say "Hey dude. What's up? Not much."
Rock star and actress Courtney Love can certainly break all grounds in music--literally. She is currently recording jazz and blues standards for the soundtrack to her new film, Hello Suckers, Hole's official Web site reports. Having teamed up with friend Roddy Bottum of Imperial Teen, Love has already handpicked several songs and recorded demos for the album. "She's handling the music very well," Bottum says of Love to Rolling Stone magazine. "She's really a great singer. She's got that great, husky voice and it really works for this material," he said. Love and Bottum have also had talks of writing songs for the soundtrack. Currently, Love is shooting 24 Hours in Vancouver and will resume work with her new band, Bastard, in July. She recently suffered a miscarriage during the filming of 24 Hours.