Postmodern Media, Post Modern Analysis, Share, & Repeat

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Young Adult (2011)


The first time I watched Young Adult, the ending was so frustrating that I went back to the box office to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a palate cleanser. While taking in a second show certainly wasn't a mistake, discounting more than Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt's phenomenal performances and the careful depiction of a disorder called Trichotillomania in Young Adult was.

It's better if this starts with what Trichotillomania (Trich) is because it's what prompted this review. So, Trich is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. Other BFRBs include skin picking (Dermatillomania), nail biting (Onychophagia), lip and cheek biting, compulsive nose picking, compulsive hair cutting and shaving (Trichotemnomania), and hair eating (Trichophagia), among others. It's often triggered, as depicted in this movie, by stress or anxiety, but some people with Trich pull without realizing they're doing it. It's believed that 2-3% of people have it, and a significant percentage of those people are women. How that affects Young Adult's main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is more prominent than I even remember, but it's still subtle. Trich is clearly something that she has, not who she is. I'll go more into that toward the end.

The movie's summary from Vudu is "Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a 37-year old former prom queen, and current writer of young adult novels, who returns home to relive her glory days and win back her now-married high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). When she finds her homecoming more challenging than expected, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), and both must face the harsh realities of growing up in this brilliant and bittersweet story." It is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diabolo Cody.

I'm not sure there's anything that can be added about Theron and Oswalt that hasn't already been said. Still, on rewatch, what did stick out to me is the moments Theron has of vulnerability and clearheadedness as Mavis. In a way that works and feels rewarding, those moments feel so different from the character we get to know. So, when they quickly vanish toward the end of the movie, you may want to shout at the screen or, like I did, reach for silver-screen-colored mouthwash. That didn't happen this time around, and I may know why.

Anti-hero led tv shows are huge now, and it's not just The Sopranos anymore. The best comparison I can make to Mavis is Bojack Horseman. The worst comparison is to other YA authors, so let's get that out of the way first. YA is a diverse genre full of more than high school drama and romance, and even if it wasn't, and these writers have to become part of that world, a lot of them still know how to "turn it off" when it comes to business and just interacting with people. This movie reminded me of a video (here) about Twilight's Stephanie Meyers, and how she is in fact an adult, treats fans and non-fans with respect, is the exact opposite of Fifty Shades of Grey's E.L James and Harry Potter's J.K Rowling in that regard, and should at the bare minimum be recognized for not being a narcissist. Mavis, especially as a ghostwriter of a declining series, falls into this mix on a sliding scale. While she's an adult, she tends to slip down as she struggles at times to maintain that role. She's the type that would stir the pot if Twitter had been as prolific in 2011 as it is now.

Back to the Bojack comparisons, whenever he tries to make big changes all at once, he backslides hard. Mavis is kind of the same way; a long week in her hometown isn't going to do much, if anything, as far making substantial changes. Plus, this isn't a Lifetime movie where the hometown is full of the nicest souls in the world. Mercury, Minnesota is just a regular, albeit fictitious, town. Which brings us to Buddy Slade, a regular guy in this regular town.

Patrick Wilson has gotten better with age and is sinking into more exciting roles, like Ocean Master in Aquaman. At the time though, he was taking these love interest roles that, to me, didn't seem right and needed an actor who was a little more eccentric in some way. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl in Watchmen is kind of in-between because it's about finding that spark again. Anyway, Wilson is a great fit as Buddy Slade, playing the stable husband and new father perfectly. And it's not like it's a boring role either. It's easy to imagine him getting his dad jokes ready for after the baby's first words. His wife even has the drum set and rimshot he needs. The only issue with Buddy is that he seems a little too civil to Mavis and allows her to take her plans for him a little too far. He doesn't lead her on whatsoever, but he brushes off her reminiscing and going into intimate recollections a little too easily and often. She may be the same person, but he's not, and there are things I've seen floating around social media now that make that topic perfect to bring up.

One small thing about Oswalt's character that gets better with age is how they handle his high school bullying since the U.S. is taking bullying much more seriously these days. Honestly, the whole movie gets better with age, much like Matt's home-brewed bourbon. This is still Oswalt's best performance. He said that he consulted with an acting coach and physical therapist for the role, and it shows in more than just how his character walks. Here's hoping he returns to more dramatic roles, or at least collaborations with Theron, Reitman, or Cody, soon.

The recent expression online is something like "if you knew me in high school, no you didn't." Mavis didn't grow up, but most people around her did, at least to some extent. Matt may make action figures as a hobby, but he also does bookkeeping and accounts payable work for a bar. Meanwhile, Mavis is an author who regularly blows off her publisher.

Actions like that, social media in general, and the concept of "adulting" make Young Adult perfect for now. Although it’s not exactly social media, Mavis is borrowing lines she overhears from people in stores and restaurants and parroting them as dialogue and thoughts for characters in her book. And as far as "adulting" goes, she lives like a recent college grad who's just scraping by, and honestly there's nothing wrong with that even for a 37-year-old. It happens, especially in the real world in 2020. The problem is that she doesn’t have the emotional maturity she should at that age.

As I mentioned, Mercury is a fictional town, but it's very far from an unbelievable one. It's a place that's just starting to get some big name restaurants and stores, and Reitman and Cody's way of showing that is similar to how Theron is shown. Some people don't change, they just appear to change. The same thing goes for some old, rural towns. The place doesn't look great, but it's not supposed to. So, strictly visually, the best visuals come from the awesome opening credits and seeing the inner workings of a cassette player. Anyway, getting a combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut isn't a real milestone (although it's a first lesson in corporate consolidation) if the school mascot is still a Native American and the school team is still called The Indians. Although, the movie does note that it's a step up from Injun, and that's true, and this was 2011. Baby steps can still be steps. And this movie was a big step forward when it comes to Trichotillomania.

Young Adult, Example of Trichotillomania from Mavis
Mavis (Charlize Theron), a fellow Tricher, and her parents, who are well-intentioned but uninformed on Trich | Copyright 2011 ViacomCBS 

When looking for other writers who covered that angle of the movie, there wasn't a lot, unfortunately, but something interesting did stick out. Mavis is the first character in a mainstream movie, that I've seen, to clearly have Trich. Based on what I’ve seen on forums, like here and here, some people in the BFRB community take issue with that because they think others will think only people like her have it or that you can't recover from it. It's very clear though, that she just pulls when stressed or anxious, and it's separate from who she is. It's also clear from the clip-on hairpieces and hairstyles she wears that people involved in that aspect of the movie either did their research or have first-hand experience (we have no way of knowing which).

The first time I saw her pull and the glimpse of a bald spot felt like real milestones on their own. I’m a man, so I saw myself represented by someone who doesn’t look like me, and the impact of that is unexplainable. The moment her parents (Jill Eikenberry and Richard Bekins) brought up her pulling really brought it home. This is the clip, and it is EXACTLY what so many uninformed parents, close friends, significant others, or even teachers (who are some of the worst triggers just, at best, because of the nature of school and test taking) have said to so many kids and others with Trich and other BFRBs. "You're not still pulling it are you?" and "it's just that your hair is so beautiful." That scene is brief, but just imagine it over eighteen years, or a lifetime. Even people, usually men, who don't mind being bald, hear it sometimes, and they just want the constant badgering, guilt, and shame to stop. Add wanting to feel beautiful and being a woman on top of that, and it's unimaginable. So for a better perspective on that, I have some recommendations to share.

My friend Abby Andrew has a YouTube channel where she talks about, among other things, alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. She's done some videos about how bald women are represented in popular media. Please check her stuff out, too. For more information on BFRBs, please go to The TLC Foundation for BFRBs and The Canadian BFRB Support Network. For Trichotillomania specifically, there are a lot of YouTubers out there now who are talking about it openly, and they're just a quick search away. There is also a wonderful documentary called Trichster on Amazon Prime and VHX. It is directed by Jillian Corsie and features one of the more prominent YouTubers with Trich, Rebecca Brown.

As for Young Adult itself, 5/5! Even someone who's not approaching the movie that personally can find a lot to appreciate about it.

Note: This review was edited by Laura A. Barton of the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN).








Share:

0 comments: