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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this black comedy from the writer of Juno has mature themes about self identity, what it means to be an adult, and how some people never grow out of their high school stereotypes. There's also a lot of drinking; the main character, Mavis (Charlize Theron), is often drunk and even crashes her car after getting wasted. What's more, she's unapologetically mean, rude, judgmental, and self absorbed. Strong language is frequent ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and "bitch" are used in nearly every exchange), and the product placements continuous. Mavis has a couple of one-night stands and kisses a married man; some scenes show her barely dressed.
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What's the story?
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a divorced author trying to write the final installment in a once popular YOUNG ADULT book series. After receiving a baby announcement from her high school boyfriend's wife, Mavis decides to leave Minneapolis to visit her small hometown -- with the delusional hope of rekindling her connection with the new father, her old flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Once home, Mavis bumps into another high school acquaintance, Matt (Patton Oswalt), who attempts to convince her that Buddy is happily married. As Mavis continues her quest to reconnect with the attractive and friendly Buddy, she misinterprets their interactions and ends up embarrassing herself while finding an odd match in the nerdy and lonely Matt.
Is it any good?
As a cautionary tale to young mean girls, this is a fabulous film, but to those seeking a little heart in their main characters, it's a bitter pill indeed. Director Jason Reitman knows how to make flawed, unapologetic characters lovable, whether it's a pro-tobacco lobbyist (Thank You for Smoking), a pregnant teenager (Juno) or an executive frequent flyer (Up in the Air). But in Young Adult, Reitman (reuniting with Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody) dares to offer audiences a completely unlikable, narcissistic, delusional, selfish protagonist whose personal journey leads her basically nowhere. It's daring, because Mavis isn't an anti-hero or a sociopath or a jerk with a secret heart of gold; she's just an entitled "psychobitch" (to quote the movie) who thinks she can snap her fingers, and her high school boyfriend will leave his wife and newborn daughter to be with her.
Technically, this is a crisply written and well acted (Theron does an incredible mean girl) black comedy. Theron and Oswalt have a hilariously magnetic connection, and he, in particular, is the heart and soul and sense of the story. Matt alone stands up to Mavis and forces her to hear truths that she's nowhere near ready to internalize. This is going to end badly, he implores her to understand; but it's also a warning to the audience. But Mavis has no lightning-bolt revelation -- no apologies, no awareness that she should alter the course of her self-absorbed life. Like the shallow teen heroine she's writing about throughout the film, Mavis thinks her beauty deserves to be recognized and loved, no matter how awful she is to everyone around her.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Young Adult portrays the ultimate "Mean Girl" character. Is Mavis likable? Do movie characters need to be appealing? Teens: Do you know anyone at your school who acts like Mavis?
What are Mavis' redeeming qualities? Does she learn any real life lessons? How does she "grow" in the movie?
How does high school status affect the characters in the movie? Did any of them outgrow their high school roles?
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