Do you remember that queen bitch from your high school? The girl who got everything and callously dismissed classmates and their feelings? Fifteen years after graduation and Mavis is a still-beautiful but still-evil portrait of grudging empathy: a lost soul, schlepping her shallowness along for the ride.
Mavis writes teen fiction, but don’t tell her that. She’s eager to call herself an “author of young-adult novels.” Simply put, she cranks out short stories about the only thing she knows about: being ruthlessly popular. But even Mavis’ editors have tired of her routine, and decided to pull the plug on her most-recent series of teen queen novellas. Mavis opts to pull up stakes from the “big city” of Minneapolis, and returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minn., where she prepares to lay waste to any obstacle. Mavis sets her sights on her old high-school flame (Patrick Wilson). The fact that he is happily married and father to a new baby is merely an inconvenience to Mavis. She’s hellbent with despicable intentions.
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Cody, everyone’s favorite stripper-turned-Oscar-winning screenwriter (Juno), has outdone herself as the most-original scribe in Hollywood. Here, she gives us Mavis, an underrepresented character in mainstream media—a mean-spirited woman with no adult social mores. Mavis even has a pretend adult relationship with her condo, living in clutter, her only companions are boxes of clothes, a constant stream of reality television and a dog that is more of an accessory. Mavis’s wardrobe defines her: Ugg boots, Hello Kitty T-shirts, baggy sweat pants and one-size-too-tight skirts.
Theron is perfect as Mavis—tall, slim, world-class beautiful and a bit of a wreck. She’s still the prom queen, but when she’s not trying (and she doesn’t try too often), her ugliness shines through. This is Theron’s best role to date, considering she’s already won an Oscar for Monster.
But the best performance in the film comes from Patton Oswalt as Matt, the nerd of nerds that Mavis ignored in school but now exploits to help hatch her plans. You may be familiar with Oswalt’s work in Big Fan or Flight of the Conchords, but this is a star turn. Some may consider him the next Jonah Hill or Zach Galifanakis. I see him as the next Dustin Hoffman. His go-for-broke performance is rich, textured and heart-breaking.
It may not be the feel-good movie of the holiday season, but Young Adult is one of the best.