I'll start with a word of warning. Young Adult is being marketed as a snarkier version of Juno with alcohol on its breath.
Don't fall for it. This is a dark comedy about a seriously troubled, emotionally stunted 37-year-old woman who peaked in high school. So yes, it's exactly what I needed to see when I was teased in high school by the popular kids. (You're about a decade late, Diablo Cody.)
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) cleans up nicely, but she's far from okay. She's divorced and unhappily working in Minneapolis as a ghostwriter for a cancelled young adult book series. Her lonely days consist of binging — reality TV and junk food by day, alcohol by night. When Mavis finds out that her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), has just had his first child, she finds a new sense of purpose. She's determined to go back to her small hometown and rescue him from his wife and baby. It never even crosses her mind that Buddy is happy and doesn't want to be "rescued."
Mavis is so emboldened because she's beautiful, confident and more than a tiny bit delusional. The movie trailers suggest that our anti-heroine may just be a b**ch, but no: She's bonafide crazy. The only character who actually has the guts to point this out is Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate Mavis runs into at the bar on her first night in town. He bears his own scars from high school — he was permanently disfigured after being attacked by a bunch of high school jocks. Obviously, they weren't friends back in the day, but now Matt's the closest confidante Mavis has. He tries to dissuade her from going after Buddy, but she's a woman on a mission.
The strength of Young Adult is that Mavis somehow remains a sympathetic character. Even if you've never worn a cocktail dress to seduce your former flame at a national chain restaurant or tried to break up somebody's happy marriage, you've probably wondered, "What if?" What if you ended up with that person you used to love, perhaps the first person you ever loved? What if no one will ever love you like he did? What if your best days are behind you?
Nostalgia is more often a product of current discontent than past happiness, especially when it comes to relationships. There's a reason that when people fall in love really young, they usually end up growing apart and then spending their lives with other people. What would Mavis and Buddy even have in common if they got back together?
Mavis isn't cognizant enough to keep things in perspective, but what about you? I remember a fleeting sick feeling when I discovered that my college boyfriend was getting married. And I hadn't loved him — or even spoken to him — in years!
Have you ever felt a sudden swell of emotion or wondered "What if?" about an old love? What triggered it, and what did you do?