“You look exactly the same as you did in high school, Mavis. Everyone else changed, but you didn’t change at all.”
Charlize Theron’s character takes this as a compliment. But it is no compliment.
“Young Adult” is a powerful reminder that in order to have a chance at being a well-adjusted adult, one must grow up and stop obsessing about what happened in high school.
Whether your high school experience was tortuous or glorious, you have to let it go.
If you were miserable and unpopular in high school, you must avoid dwelling on the past. Forgive and forget the kids who made fun of you. Their childish insults only have meaning if you let them affect your confidence now.
If you were successful and popular as a teenager, it is tempting to want to cling to your high school glory forever like Al Bundy. But that is just as foolish. Inconveniently for the cool kids, the recipe for success in high school – the art of hiding and subverting your true self in order to fit in with the crowd – doesn’t work in the real world.
The recipe for success as an adult is the exact opposite: you must learn to discover who you truly are, make peace with it, and find a few people who will completely accept you.
Charlize Theron is clueless, sad, and terrific as Mavis Gary – a Minneapolis author who has written a series of Young Adult novels. Mavis is as immature as the characters in her books. As the story begins, she decides to take a trip to her hometown for one wild weekend of drinking and scheming.
Mavis’s plan is to bring meaning back to her lonely life by winning back her high school boyfriend Buddy. However, Buddy is too busy caring for his infant daughter to pay Mavis much attention.
So our hapless hard-drinking heroine ends up spending most of her time hanging out with another old classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt).
Like Mavis, Matt is emotionally scarred from his high school experience. Unlike Mavis, Matt is also physically scarred. A group of jocks gave him a severe beating sophomore year and he has had to walk with a cane ever since.
Mavis and Matt are a perfect match, but they are both too damaged to realize it.
Just like they did in “Juno,” writer/director duo Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman deftly balance comedy, tragedy and pathos.
Though she starts off as a hilarious home-wrecking harlot, Mavis ultimately learns some valuable life lessons. When you’re 15, it’s okay to be vain, deceitful, and shallow. You are allowed to be nasty to other girls and even try to steal their boyfriends. If you behave that way at 35, you are no longer just a mean girl – you are a miserable sociopath.
The high school experience is an important part of growing up. Not every graduate has received a solid education, but most have had to face extreme disappointment, embarrassment and heartbreak and they are stronger for it.
High school really does prepare you for adulthood as long you are able to leave the pettiness and the pain behind. Mavis finally learns that lesson. It is a satisfying happy ending.