Spoiler alert: This blog post contains spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Mavis Gary is an alcoholic, young adult fiction writer. The film follows her journey after she decides to rekindle the romance with her high school sweetheart who recently had a baby and is happily married. In the end, Mavis doesn’t find what she’s looking for, but she does learn more about herself.
The main character, Mavis Gray, is played by Charlize Theron. Others that starred in the movie include Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser and Collette Wolfe. The film was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. Mavis is almost forty, but has yet to figure out the key to happiness. In her past, the writer has one failed marriage and her ghost-written book series was cancelled due to low revenues. The protagonist of Mavis’ writings is Kendall Strickland, a popular teen in high school. Mavis relates to Kendall because she feels that the best years of her life were in high school when she was crowned prom queen. Still in search of happiness in her modern life, Mavis decides that she’s destined to be with her high school lover, Buddy Slade played by Patrick Wilson, who is currently married to Beth Slade played by Elizabeth Reaser. This revelation strikes Mavis when she learns that Buddy and Beth just had a child. Mavis travels to her small town of Mercury, Minnesota to execute her plan of winning Buddy back. On her journey, Mavis reconnects with an old classmate who was the victim of a hate crime, Matt Freehauf played by Patton Oswalt.
When we first meet Mavis in the film, it’s obvious she has some issues. She wakes up to The Girls Next Door playing on TV, then proceeds to chug pop from a 2 litre bottle. And that’s not all. Then we learn that Mavis is well behind on a deadline for the final book of her soon-to-be-cancelled series. She also dates precariously and erotically, and dresses like a beauty queen half the time and like a college student the other half of the time. So far, Mavis is extremely human and relatable. Then, we learn that her old high school beau recently had a baby back in her hometown. Tired of endless one night stands where she feels used, Mavis decides to travel back to Mercury, Minnesota on a whim hoping to finally find happiness.
Unfortunately, Mavis doesn’t exactly find what she’s looking for. First, she stumbles upon her old classmate, Matt, who becomes her confidante and drinking partner. Upon hearing why she’s back in town, he advises her not to meddle with Buddy’s marriage and family because he’s found happiness. Unconvinced, Mavis pursues Buddy anyway assuming that he can’t possibly be content, probably because she isn’t happy herself. While executing her plan, Mavis meets Buddy’s wife, Beth, and becomes jealous, but also pensive about their situation. The climax of the movie occurs when Mavis is invited to the baby naming ceremony by Buddy. She assumes that he invited her because he’s secretly in love with her too. In a private room at the party, Mavis confesses her love to Buddy, but is instantly rejected. Following this rejection, Mavis has a very public outburst that is driven by her severely damaged confidence that is both raw and amusing. Before departing her small town, Mavis meets with another old friend from her high school, Sandra played by Collette Wolfe. The young adult writer opens up about how she’s unhappy and is envious of others who need so little to be untroubled. Sandra tells her that she’s different, she was able to escape the small town for an exciting life in San Francisco and dedicated her life to creating novels — something that no one else from Mercury did. She may be unhappy, but she’s also leading a far more enthralling life than anyone in that small town. This somehow revitalizes Mavis’ confidence, perhaps she accepts that she’s unique, not a carbon copy like everyone else, and she flips back into her popular, mean girl ways.
What I loved the most about Young Adult is Mavis’ character. The plot itself was good, but the character development of the protagonist was unmatched. In essence, Mavis was the popular, mean girl in high school, but she never grew past this person. Because she’s in her late 30s, but still pursuing a teen dream, she is deeply unsatisfied. Due to a lack of personal growth, she’s still living cycles of teen drama which, in turn, appear in her writings about Kendall. Various nuances were used throughout the film to demonstrate Mavis’ arrested development, such as trashy reality TV clips in the background from Keeping Up with the Kardashians and over-the-top outfits that outshine everyone else. I also loved that her characterization included the idea that writers often get inspiration from their own experiences, painful or not.