dir. Jason Reitman
Three times. Three times. Three times I had to pause Young Adult so that I could get up, walk around, and take a breather. I had to repeat to myself, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie. I can do this” Then, after I had composed myself, I returned to the movie, only to shout at the screen few minutes later, “Oh my God, take a fucking hint! What the fuck are you doing? Leave him alone, goddamnit! Seriously! What the Christ!” When I finally finished, the whole experience left me emotionally drained. This is one serious comedy.
Man, I recently put myself through the ringer, movie-wise. Between Snowtown, Salo, and a whole host of other movies, most of my viewing experiences of late have been harrowing. But none of them have been like Young Adult. I didn’t even have to take a breather while watching any of those aforementioned movies. Yes, they were painful, but I powered through them. I suppose the difference is relatability: most of Salo may have been hard to stomach, but at least I have no experience of being a sex slave; that movie didn’t dredge up painful memories. With Young Adult, however...I mean, is it possible to go through life without encountering at least one Mavis Gary? And hell, we’ve all been in at least one extremely awkward social situation we wish we could teleport from. Young Adult forces us to sit through these situations well past the breaking point.
The genius of the movie is that, surface-wise, it’s actually no different from a typical rom-com—a thirty-something woman revisits her hometown and her past and realizes she still has feelings for an old flame who is now married; so she tries to win him back. The twist here, however, is that the subject is approached in a realistic manner. Our protagonist is an unstable, mentally ill narcissist who’s viewed with a mixture of scorn, pity, and annoyance by all with whom she comes into contact.
And Jason Reitman’s style-free direction actually enhances the experience. Now, I suppose it’s not fair for me to judge, seeing as I had previously only seen one Jason Reitman movie (Thank You for Smoking), but I’ve never considered him much of a filmmaker. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly competent (and Young Adult has proven to me that he’s great with actors); but I always thought his workmanlike direction was out of step with the accolades he’s received for his work. And though my opinion hasn’t changed much after watching Young Adult, I think his non-style actually works in his favor this time around: whether intentional or not, he’s produced a more subversive film than a distinctive auteur could. Young Adult has the bland, impersonal sheen of a typical studio-churned rom-com. Indeed, if you were to watch Young Adult with the sound off you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Where another cringe-inducing (and equally brilliant) movie like Rachel Getting Married examined a mentally-ill narcissist through the mode of the Oscar-friendly important picture, Reitman and Diablo Cody have snuck this shit in the backdoor. Not only have they produced an achingly painful character study, they've dissected a seemingly disposable genre, laying bare the psychosis at its heart. If every rom-com were this self-aware, I’d probably be a huge fan of the genre.