There are going to be tons of spoilers in this.
Let me begin by saying I absolutely hated Diablo Cody‘s new movie, Young Adult. It’s hard to see the character Charlize Theron plays and not recoil somewhat. Then let me follow that up by saying that it is a pretty worthwhile depiction of the way we live now.
The film revolves around Mavis Gary, an unhappily divorced, alcoholic, young adult fiction writer. As her career peters out, she decides to return to her hometown in the hopes of seducing her – very happily married – high school boyfriend. Presumably, it is a break from blowing off her deadlines and watching endless episodes of Kendra during which Kendra’s husband tells Kendra that she never has to feel bad, because she is prettier than other women, (and if she’s gained weight it’s because she’s had a child). Periodically Mavis also tells other people that she thinks they’re disgusting.
Mavis is, in short, a character so wildly unlikable that there are moments where she goes a full 180 degrees and comes out likable again, like the time when she’s on a date during and the man mentions he was in the Peace Corps. She scrunches her face, and says, “oh, that sucks” to which he replies “it was probably the most meaningful experience of my life.” She then sleeps with him and sneaks out in the middle of the night.
Which does not ever make her admirable, or someone you’d really want to relate to. I think that as a general rule, everyone at TheGloss is pretty firmly anti-being-an-irresponsible-woman-child. Mavis, despite being 30, still seems like a young adult. Which is to say she has very little interest in who gets hurt provided she gets what she wants. To that end, she memorably tells her clearly uninterested high school boyfriend that his marriage is something they can beat, together, as if it were cancer. She also informs his wife that she still has many of her ex-boyfriend’s boxers.
And she doesn’t even get many of the lines that often define Diablo Cody’s characters. Admittedly, those lines can seem unrealistic, but then, so do the lines spoken by Noel Coward’s characters (unless you have friends who are lockjawed and always sort of bitterly drunk on martinis). Mavis has perhaps ten pages of dialogue, and spends most of the movie casually insulting everyone in her hometown by telling them they’re all fat and dumb.
The happy ending comes when a sycophantic woman, who admired Mavis when Mavis was the high school prom queen, tells Mavis that Mavis better dressed, and prettier, and has a better job than anyone in her hometown. It’s a moment that paralells exactly what you see on the reality shows Mavis watches. Mavis decides that yes, she is better than anyone there, and rides off into the sunset.
But I think the question that lingers is whether or not she actually is. It’s indisputable that she’s better dressed and prettier, though more gainfully employed seems slightly doubtful. And, if a lot of reality shows are to be believed, those are the things that define success. But Mavis is indisputably miserable, and needy while simultaneously being a deeply unpleasant person. If she is better in some superficial ways, they’re not ways that have made her happier than anyone from her hometown. But she is still wearing Marc Jacobs. And she looks terrific. And even though they seem like objectively better people, when Mavis tell them they’re all fat and dumb she’s not… entirely wrong. If Mavis was on a reality show she’d likely be billed as the heroine just for being better looking and more glamorous.