01 January 2012

You Can't Go Home Again And All the Liquor in the World Won't Change That

Yesterday was so much better. Remember how wonderful it was? We all were in perfect health. The food was delicious. The conversation veritably sparkled. The weather was ideal. By comparison, today sucks. We are older. We have headaches. The food is overcooked. No one has anything interesting to say. The weather is awful. How I long for that Golden Age that never existed. That idealized time that so flourishes in my imagination. As Paul McCartney sang: "yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they're here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday."

We try to go back to old haunts. See old friends. Recreate old times. But there's a gas station where the old ball field was. Our former flame has put on a lot of weight. And the old days don't exist. Except in our memories where they have a golden hue. At best their memories can be recreated by a familiar song.

I understood what Charlize Theron's character, Mavis was trying to do in Young Adult, the new film from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. In returning to her small hometown and trying to re-hook up with her old boyfriend, Mavis was taking a very recognizable action. I also got what she was doing by drinking all that booze. That's understandable when you are being reckless and when you are stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping all over someone else's. It's all understandable when you are an alcoholic. You drink copiously and think not at all or in all manner of directions that have no connection to reality. You can't listen to the logic of other voices over the din of your addiction. That addiction that tells you very loudly to follow your heart, even if it may lead you off a cliff.

Today suffers from reality. Yesterday's only flaw is that its in the past. You don't need to have a snootful to tell you that you can get it back. But by God get loaded and you'll think the old days are right at your fingertips and damn anyone who gets in your way.

Mavis was a stuck up prom queen in high school who cared not a whit for anyone significantly below her social status -- which was most everyone. She cared deeply and passionately for herself (classic addict behavior) and her beau, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Guys like Matt (Patton Oswalt) who had the locker next to hers were irrelevant. He was, in her words at the time, "a theater fag." In fact he famously got severely beaten in high school by a group of jocks who thought he was gay. He would have been a martyr to gay rights except he was straight. Rotten luck. So he was just another victim of testosterone fueled thugs. Oh yes, and crippled for life.

So Mavis comes back to town, 37 years old, a career on the rocks, one failed marriage to her name. She aims to get Buddy back. To recreate the perfection that in her mind was the teen years. Never mind that he is, by all accounts, happily married and only recently a father. Mavis will win him back.

As she plots and connives to win Buddy she befriends the grown up Matt. They are on odd couple indeed. Their relationship becomes complicated and central to the story. Matt sees that her quest has no chance and is at best ill advised. But he can hardly resist hanging out with Mavis. Matt may be a loser stuck in his hometown playing with gadgets, but he's had a lot of time to ruminate and has used it wisely, having figured out a lot about life.

Young Adult is a movie with the very best of intentions. An original story that combines humor with the awkward and painful. It's also one of those modern films that suffers from selling itself short, settling for a few jabs when a roundhouse right would have been okay. It's too short. I suspect there is a better movie that could have been constructed from the pieces on the cutting room floor. I'm sure audiences would have sat through another ten or 15 minutes that were in service of telling a fuller story.

That said, Young Adult is an admirable film. Theron and Oswalt give terrific performances. Cody is a top notch screenwriter as Juno (2007) established and Reitman is a serviceable director who one only fears will pander to mainstream sensibilities rather than challenge them as he did with the facile Up in the Air (2009).

What Young Adult clearly does is tell the story of how you most certainly cannot go home again (plus you know you're going about it the wrong way if you've got loving parents there and you find yourself avoiding them completely). But it is also a story about alcoholism and what happens to a person on the road to hitting their bottom. It is not a pretty story, but in the case of Young Adult, it's a pretty good one to watch.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Theron gives a terrific performance. She elevates the movie by demonstrating her versatility. She almost makes you feel sympathetic towards this blonde, beautiful and sharp-witted anti-heroine. Oswalt deserves consideration for supporting actor as well. Great review.