Maybe Some People Can’t Grow Up

Okay, I was halfway through writing this post when I realised that Just a Little Whim seems to be developing a young adult theme.  This is purely coincidental and I will write about something else soon.  Promise.

So, today I’m thinking about the film Young Adult directed by Jason Reitman.  If his name doesn’t sound familiar, this is the guy who brought us Juno and Up in the Air.  Good films.

For me, the thing that is striking about Reitman’s work (particularly after watching Young Adult) is how realistic the stories are.  You don’t always get a satisfying ending – but that’s life.  Not everyone gets to prance off into the sunset.

Young Adult is the story of  Mavis, 37, the washed up author of a soon-to-be-cancelled young adult series. After receiving an email from her high-school sweetheart announcing the birth of his daughter, Mavis decides to return her home-town to win him back and live happily ever after.

This film is described as a dark comedy.  A lot of the critics have been going on about how hilarious it was, which I find a little puzzling. I think to describe this film as funny would be a bit misleading.  Yes, it made me laugh but it was that weird sort of laughter that only slips out when you’re feeling acutely uncomfortable.  That’s not meant to be a criticism though. Personally, I think the real strength of Young Adult lies in the way in makes you cringe. It’s pretty confronting, but it captures something that I think is very real.

The film’s tagline is: “Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.”

Charlize Theron did a fabulous job as Mavis – the most deluded, narcissistic woman in the history of the universe.  She’s on a mission to reclaim her high school fantasies, clinging to the idea that being Prom Queen and having a hot boyfriend somehow made her better than everyone else.

She’s a truly pathetic character to watch and ultimately her story is a deeply sad one. After a brief moment of clarity at the climax of the film, Mavis finally recognises how insane her life is. The audience hope that maybe this is the realisation she needs to turn it around (queue happy ending).  But ultimately, its easier for Mavis to take shelter in the fantasy world she builds around herself than face the reality of her loneliness and depression.

It’s true, some people never grow up.

I have always found this American ‘high school as a pivotal life experience’ concept a bit strange.  Is it just exaggerated in films and television or is it firmly based in reality?  Personally, as an Australian teenager, I didn’t find high school a life-changing experience. I have taken some really great friendships away from high school but that’s about it.  Well, apart from my university admissions rank – which believe it or not, I promptly forgot.  I never viewed high school as an experience that would somehow define my future.  It just was a phase of my education I went through. I may be wrong, but I think most Aussie teens probably feel this way.

Based on what I’ve seen at the movies, American High School looks like it’s 10% education and 90% teen angst.

In saying this, I think you can encounter adults who just won’t grow up in all cultural settings. I had a very ironic experience just yesterday. After watching Young Adult I thought (fondly) – oh those crazy Americans!  We don’t get Mavis characters around here! I returned the DVD the next day and went to work.

And who should walk into the shop about half an hour later?

This woman, at first glance, simply appeared a little eccentric. She looked about sixty but she was wearing a very tight, bright pink T-shirt and short shorts. It’s winter here, mind you. She had very conspicuously dyed hair and was clutching an oversized faux-designer handbag.  Just as she was paying, a chihuahua poked its head out of the handbag.

I can tell you that people don’t generally tote small dogs in their handbags in Sydney.

So there she was – my very own, real-life Mavis. Good God.  Young Adult just got a whole lot scarier.

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