Even though she only writes one thing, Diablo Cody (writer of Juno and Jennifer’s Body) is an uneven writer. Her characters are female, bitchy and sharp witted, and that works well when they’re supposed to be unlikeable, and badly when they aren’t.
Her first major film, Juno, took an accidentally pregnant teenager and, without making her weak or stupid, turned her into a grownup. She was cruel and unpleasant and by the end of the film deserved her happy ending. The United States of Tara, her recently cancelled TV show, was about a bunch of apathetic cool losers who didn’t ever become more than dull joke machines. While there’s nothing wrong with straight up comedy, Cody’s jokes don’t work unless you care about the people saying them. She needs to follow character progression from unsympathetic to self-discovery or redemption.
So, Young Adult, her most character driven film so far, is also her best.
Mean spirited, alcoholic, young adults’ writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), returns to her hometown to break up her ex’s marriage. She’s an awful, awful person, and if she weren’t so miserable she’d be completely irredeemable.
Instead she’s what makes this film- the combination of Theron’s believable contemptibility, her subtle moments and Cody’s neat one liners adds up to a character who’s half adult-child, half tragic hero. She creates a perfect balance of sympathy and anger.
Bulked out with a decent supporting cast, Patton Oswald, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser in particular, playing more varyingly horrible people, it’s a well-crafted, ambiguous character study.
It’s a shame that the trailers made it look like a romantic comedy, because while there’s nothing wrong with rom-coms, Young Adult is straight up drama, and it’s getting the wrong audience. If people don’t go and see it then Diablo Cody’s going to end up writing more stuff like The United States of Tara, and that would be awful.