Charlize Theron’s character arc in Young Adult isn’t so much an arc as it an extensive climb that turns into a sheer drop. It’s a character that hates the world because it changed around her, or in other worlds, stopped being high school. She even writes young adult fiction, so zing on working in the title literally and metaphorically.
Marvis Gray (Theron) is ridiculously a Diablo Cody character. It’s an understated performance that could only come from Cody’s snarky material. Gray is obsessed with her high school fling, this despite the fact that he’s married and that has turned into a family. It never dawns on her that a baby tends to be a roadblock.
That’s Young Adult for 90-minutes, wallowing in Gray’s self-pitied, alcoholic, divorcee binge while she slowly seduces the man she believes still wants her. Maybe it’s because there are expectations that come along with a Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody pairing. Considering their combined resume, Young Adult should be so funny that it stings.
Instead, the film feels like a waiting game, a dull, repetitious one too. The funniest encounter is between Theron and a hotel clerk as they bicker over whether there’s a dog in Theron’s purse. That’s where some of that unexpected spark comes into play, Gray one of those characters who has a nervous, dangerous tick elsewhere.
Clearly, the film is headed for an uber-meltdown, and it does come. That fierce jealousy rises to the surface and boils over, right in the most inopportune place possible. Young Adult begins swinging low as realizations set in and realistic life goals finally fill Gray’s (still) bitchy head. That flip over to the other side needed to come sooner, because the character is nothing without it. That’s one of the reasons it almost feels jarring, even if it’s obviously part of the script’s plan from the outset.
Maybe it’s best stated as if Young Adult only has two acts, the first and second. It’s missing that third because the resolution is where Gray goes from here. It’s never on screen. The first act is that late 30-something woman grasping at her youth, and the second is when she’s forced into the world around her, not one that exists in books. When you think about it, it’s ridiculous that she never realizes this new reality being surrounded by the mountain of product placements. The McCafe cup during the lunch chat is composed better than anything around it.
The Arri Alexa delivers on its digital duties, the end result being a clean presentation. Despite the black levels failing to hold, their lack of density doesn’t reveal any visible noise or other digital artifact. The encode holds up its own end of the compression bargain without any distinct temper tantrums either.
For the most part, Young Adult looks natural, not necessarily primed for hi-def glory. That’s fine, the source material always crisp without ever appearing overly filtered or smooth. In fact, medium or distance shots maintain their stability, always textured enough to notice if not falling into high-fidelity material as the camera pans.
In close the story is a little more consistent, especially with regards to Theron. Shots focused on her reveal appealing definition, a layer of facial detail evident with regularity. In the dimmer lights of the local bar scene, the image maintains integrity. Even though the first 20-minutes or so succumb to rather aggressive aliasing (calling even more attention to that McCafe cup), it’s an issue that only plagues a miniscule part of the image.
Young Adult looks like the mood being set, or in other words, desaturated and dim. Primaries never bite and the movie is set within a gray scale. Vibrancy is not something it will be remembered for. With a light paleness to the flesh tones, Reitman’s flick is still natural in appearance. The dreary, “gray skies” motif doesn’t take away everything.
Driven by dialogue taking place inside bars, ambiance will be as aggressive as this DTS-HD track can be. Glasses clinking, patrons chatting, and a mild soundtrack keep up the activity in the surrounds even if the effect barely registers as subtle. At least it’s there.
Conversation has a consistent priority in the center, and a short bar band session shows acute attention to preserving the entire act. Instruments feel separated and individualized, plus accentuated by ringing out throughout the bar. The echo effect is intense.
Director Jason Reitman is joined by his director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld, making that a crammed directorial trilogy. Misery Loves Company is a pleasing making of, structured well and filled with little of the usual fluff. The Awful Truth deconstructs a scene with Diablo Cody, six deleted scenes are fair, and a 46-minute Q&A session proves entertaining.
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