Despite great critical acclaim, and a clutch of well-deserved award nominations,  if you scan through the forums, Young Adult seems to have inspired a lot of haters and a whole lot of sexism.

Which is a shame as director Jason Reitman’s latest is a disturbing black comedy that takes a risk with a rather dislikeable leading lady.

It centres around a bright, beautiful, and bitchy writer of teenage books (for young adults – geddit?) who is shocked to receive an email from her long-lost love announcing the birth of his daughter.  The unlikely named Mavis is so perturbed, she re-examines her life and realises just what is missing from it – the new daddy, Buddy.

So she moves back to her home town in Minnesota and sets upon a rampage of seduction that is at times funny but mostly cringily embarrassing and dark.

Don’t watch this film for a laughter riot, however. Mavis’s demons are manifold and often painful to watch.  Yet the multi-layering of her character is such that, although portrayed as a narcissistic man-eater, the viewer just needs to dig a little deeper to empathise with this deeply troubled woman.

Many have derided her as a simple Fatal Attraction-style psycho, a woman who has reached a certain age (yawn) who is so desperate for a man that she’ll do anything to ensnare him.

Yet, without giving too much away, it’s not like the attraction is all one-way traffic. And any woman who’s had an attack of the lady brains (that powerful female inner voice that is responsible for much of the misunderstanding between the Janets and Johns of this world) will empathise to some degree. Either Buddy is a class A moron or he has to take a large chunk of responsibility for Mavis’s behaviour. We have to assume the latter for why else would the beautiful, intelligent Mavis (played by the beautiful, intelligent Charlize Theron) be attracted to this guy? For example, why does a man suddenly send a picture of his new baby to an ex he hasn’t contacted in nearly 20 years (this takes on extra significance as events unfold)? And when Mavis turns up to their first ‘date’ in a slit-to-the-navel dress, what guy would arrange a repeat performance if he wasn’t picking up some serious signals? Or maybe that’s just my lady brain talking.

And that is my trouble with the film. It is often difficult to understand why Mavis dated this bozo for four years. There is also little background to her character to fill in the intervening years. There are no flashbacks to their relationship and so it’s hard to really understand her attraction to him.

Also, it just feeds the tired old stereotype of a woman in her late 30s who, no matter how accomplished and gorgeous, still feels unfulfilled without the love of a good man.

Yet Young Adult is more than it appears on the surface and a great part of its success is down to the relationship between Mavis and Matt (played brilliantly by Patton Oswalt), a nerdy cripple who has, before now, always been ignored by the Mavises of this world.

Writer Diablo Cody explores the similarities between these two adults who are still psychologically caged by their high school years and the result is a brilliantly realised exposition of male/female friendships.

Young Adult is not for someone looking for spiteful laughs at the expense of those high school bullies who made your life a misery. It is a moving story of one woman facing her demons and Cody, director Reitman as well as Theron are to be applauded for ultimately making me, at least, care about someone who, on the surface, may seem like any man’s worst nightmare.

About The Author

Rhian is a freelance journalist and editor living in London. A film fan for as long as she can remember, her tastes cover the entire spectrum of cinema.