Young Adult **+

January 12, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Diablo Cody has a distinctive voice. You can hear it in Juno. You can hear it in Jennifer’s Body. You can hear it in United States of Tara. And you can hear it in Young Adult. After a while, however, the uniqueness of what Cody has to say and how she says it can grow tiresome. Juno was cheeky, edgy, and fun. It mixed humor and drama, fantasy and reality, love and sex in just the right mix. It was also the sole unqualified success on Cody’s still-growing resume. There was something about Juno that made it appealing. Some have wondered whether director Jason Reitman deserved more credit than he was given. Perhaps to test the theory, Cody and Reitman have re-teamed (without Ellen Page) for Young Adult. On the surface, it looks and sounds a lot like Juno. But there’s a big difference in tone. Juno showed affection for its characters, and the audience shared that love affair. In Young Adult, the attitude toward the protagonist is thinly-veiled contempt. For most of the movie, Cody and Reitman jape at her until, in the last 20 minutes or so, they attempt to turn her into an object of sympathy. It doesn’t work and, on balance, neither does Young Adult.

It’s tricky business to make a movie in which the lead character is detestable. It can be done, but it requires a deftness of touch not on display here. Reitman and Cody are trying for a black comedy, but the screenplay’s numerous “pithy” lines aren’t all that funny and its “insights” are rather obvious, especially the “revelation” of how lives shift in the reality of post-high school life. Geeks rule the world. Jocks often end up working minimum wage jobs. And popular girls get stuck with a couple of kids before they turn 25. For a reminder of this, one would do better to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” than sit through Young Adult. At the very least, it would save about 90 minutes.

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