Way late review: A Separation

Films set in a different culture than your own can be challenging. What is familiar to those entrenched in the culture can seem odd to those looking from the outside in. The outsider views the film from one angle while those on the inside may see it quite different. Enter A Separation, an Iranian film set in modern day Iran and me set in modern day USA.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are husband and wife. How long they will be married is in question from the first scene. Shot from the view of the judges chair, Simin pleads with the judge to grant her a divorce since she claims her husband agreed to leave the country with her over a year ago. The paperwork is done and now he won’t leave. Nader says he can’t leave his father, who suffers from the later stages of Alzheimer’s. He also won’t give permission for Simin to take their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) with her. Simin argues that his father doesn’t even know who Nader is anymore so there is no difference in who takes care of him. Not the most sensitive argument ever made. The dialogue flies fast and furious as one might expect under such conditions. Keeping up with the sub-titles can be a challenge.

The couple stay married while Simin moves in with her parents. She says she intends to leave the country, with or without her family. Nader is then put in a tough situation. He can’t leave his father on his own during the day so he scrambles and finds someone to care for him. This leads to a long, twisted road of decisions impacting lives in unexpected ways. The viewpoints of those on each side of the issue are taken into account making it hard to take sides. Empathy is felt for all yet it’s discomforting. I was reminded of a quieter, more nuanced Changing Lanes. If there are any missteps it’s in being so procedural, the film loses some of its emotional impact in the last act.

The Iranian court system is on full display. Is it an accurate portrayal? I don’t know. But the intimate view of the court is fascinating to observe. There are times when it’s easy to forget you’re watching a fictional film, often due to the authentic acting which drives every moment.

An exhausting film, but in a good way. A Separation tells what would appear to be a simple story in a way that is anything but simple. The moral and ethical decisions characters make in some trying situations would seem easy to judge except director and writer Asghar Farhadi doesn’t provide an effortless judgement. He, like the actors themselves, ensure reality is represented in full until the end where emotions are tapped out.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2Sswx_vrWk[/youtube]

Way late review: Margaret

I used to wonder what happened to Kenneth Lonergan, director of a film I adore, You Can Count on Me. It’s been roughly a dozen years since that near masterpiece of a film was released. Apparently Longergan was in a bit of a mess with Fox Searchlight over his next film which was shot in 2005. That film, Margaret finally found its way out in a very limited theater release in 2011. And in 2012 I finally got to see it.

The plot driving Margaret is rather simple. A high school girl, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), witnesses a bus accident she feels she was at least partially at fault for. Lisa then struggles to deal with the aftermath. Rather straightforward yet the layers are many. The people weaving in and out of Lisa’s life, some right through the core and others on the periphery, are numerous. Scenes from one story line cut abruptly into another.

Lisa is an unlikable character. Before the accident wrecks havoc on her, she is shown to be manipulative. In fairness, the adults in her lives aren’t exactly role models. Her math teacher (Matt Damon) proves to cross the line from caring to creepy. Her dad is on the other coast and is so passive in his moments on screen that it makes Lisa look like a competent decision maker. Lisa’s mom is a broadway actress who takes care of Lisa and her brother in New York City but most of the film shows the young grade school boy fending for himself. He seems to enter and leave the house on a whim. Lisa does the same.

Margaret attempts to examine the lives of those in and around Lisa’s life. There are powerful scenes mixed throughout, the problem becomes the thin thread that holds it all together. The film could have been five hours long and only scratched the surface of the many topics and themes hinted at throughout the theatrical cut. The editing seems frantically disjointed at times as characters flash on the screen and then sometimes don’t reappear until much later, if at all.

In between all the chaos is Lisa’s attempt at ensuring justice is served to the bus driver behind the wheel of the accident. She goes from traumatized teenager to a justice crusader. We’re never sure if she is sincere about her pursuit of justice or simply thriving off the drama. Even the best friend, Emily (Jeannie Berlin), of the victim confronts Lisa on the motives behind Lisa’s sudden interest in making a case. The interactions between Emily and Lisa are tense. But as tense and as strong as those moments are, they never reach a resolution that is satisfying one way or the other.

A two and a half hour sprawling drama centered on a generally unlikeable character does not sound appealing. Oddly enough it’s also not a chore, thanks mostly to director and writer Kenneth Lonergan’s penchant for writing scenes that more than hold interest. Margaret is at least two very good films hiding inside one good one. A strange formula but fitting for a film with such a struggle in getting a final release.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POPLzI40Uiw[/youtube]

Way late review: Big Miracle

Finding films the whole family can watch is a challenge, especially when that family includes a first and sixth grader. In my weakest moments I’ve blacked out and woken up having finished films like True Grit and Rise of the Planet of the Apes with both my kids sitting eyes wide open by my side. Clearly, I’m next in line for father of the year. In my desperate attempt to strike the balance between age appropriate yet interesting films I gave Big Miracle a spin.

Based on the true story of the rescue attempt by various groups in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. government of three whales trapped in the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska, Big Miracle is a big mess. The film initially centers on Adam Carlson (John Krasinski of The Office fame), a TV reporter who wants to make it big but instead finds himself doing special segments on avocados in the tiny town of Point Barrow, Alaska. Everything changes For Adam when he breaks the story of three gray whiles trapped in the freezing waters of the Arctic. The whales make for national coverage. I suppose the media ran out of shark bite stories.

In place of a fun look at the many different people and interests represented, we get characters like Drew Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, Rachel Kramer. Maybe it’s harsh but nonetheless true; Barrymore’s best work happened thirty years ago on the big screen. She is now relegated to playing odd characters who should get laughs (if nothing else), but in place of laughs we get aggravation – and lots of it. In fairness, Barrymore was at least playing a character in the story. John Krasinski played the role of Jim Halpert, Dunder Mifflin’s practical joker salesman, perfect. Too bad he was supposed to be Adam Carlson, a small time TV reporter stuck in the middle of nowhere Alaska.

In addition to a Greenpeace activist and Alaska TV reporter, the film includes native whale hunters, a big mouth oil exec who could care less about whales or pretty much anything but oil, worldwide media, the National guard, the President of the United States (a bad impression of Ronald Reagan), a Soviet icebreaker crew, and two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their amazing de-icing machines. All that sets up a perfect screwball comedy but the ensuing antics are never screwy enough. What should be a briskly paced film full of colorful characters in conflict with one another bogs down into forced melodrama with awkward attempts for laughs. The result is an unevenly paced film with an unbalanced, yet ultimately bland tone. My daughter was asleep before the half way mark. I was (and still am) jealous.

Even though there would seem to be little in the way of bright spots, the story had its moments. There were times where Ted Danson, as the big oil exec with an over the top personality, was genuinely amusing. The two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their de-icing machines also added some sincere yet lighthearted moments. The shots of Barrymore diving into the arctic waters and swimming beneath the ice with the whales made for a pretty amazing scene.

When the credits rolled there was a decent amount of real footage and photos from the event. It became clear then, Big Miracle would have made a much better documentary. In the hands of the right director a documentary could have captured the real tension and drama in the story. Plus, there would be no need for mundane performances. The real people couldn’t be anymore stale than the performances given by much of the fairly well known cast.

Big Miracle had promise being based on a true and somewhat bizarre story. Filled with conflicts between all the various people involved, the film could have been a decent little comedy. Unfortunately, we are put through an experience much like that of the whales. We’re stuck in a frigid film and the highlight is getting just enough decent moments every so often to keep us going. Those moments make for an almost tolerable experience. Almost.

[xrr rating=2/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKiqttTnUwI[/youtube]

Way late review: Another Earth

The odds of finding two dramas with female leads dealing with depression set to a sci-fi backdrop released in the same year seems unlikely. I thought Melancholia would fill that niche but that was until I watched Another Earth.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) is smart. She’s going to attend MIT and study astrophysics. That was the plan until one night she drives home after a party and slams into another car with a family of three. Mom and son die, leaving the husband John (William Mapother) in a coma he eventually comes out of. John never learns the name of the teenager responsible for killing his wife and son. Rhoda serves four years in prison. The once promising braniac is rendered a shell of herself. She is so ridden with guilt she can only muster up the courage to take a job as a janitor. Even though she doesn’t say it, Rhoda doesn’t believe she deserves a better life after having taken the lives of others.

Beyond sharing themes of depression, Another Earth also shares a planet coming closer to earth. Instead of impending doom from a planet on a collision course with our world, Rhoda and others are confronted with a planet that is a mirror image of Earth. In fact, for every person on Earth there is an exact replica on “Earth 2″ (as it’s called in the film). Melancholia lost points with me due to its heavy handed nature. Another Earth loses some points for a completely absurd idea. Fortunately that idea does not take center stage. Though, one could argue that Earth 2 is allegorical just as much as Melancholia.

Aimless wandering finds Rhoda one evening near the scene of the fatal accident. She sees a man lay a toy near a telephone pole. This drives her to dig up information on the man who she discovers is John, a once accomplished music professor at Yale now retired to living a reclusive lifestyle. Rhoda spies on John and finds a man self medicating with alcohol. Her conscience is bothered and she works up the courage to go to John’s house and knock on his door. Her plan is to admit her guilt. Much like her plan was to go to MIT, things change. Only this time Rhoda makes a last second decision to change her plan and pose as a representative for a cleaning service. She offers a free, one day trial. John reluctantly accepts. From that point forward Rhoda cleans John’s home once per week. Eventually a friendship forms between the two. John starts to come to life as Rhoda looks to leave hers behind. She enters a contest for a spot on a shuttle to Earth 2 and wins.

The drama that unfolds between Rhoda and John as they draw closer and Rhoda gets an opportunity to move far, far away is heartfelt. The misstep occurs when time is given to an almost cosmic connection between Rhoda and a fellow high school janitor. This janitor serves as a spiritual guru of sorts. His words of wisdom come off as fortune cookie fodder and the supposed deep bond he and Rhoda share feels forced and inauthentic.

The end is satisfactory if not a bit hokie due to the idea of a mirrored Earth coming to the forefront. Be that as it may, credit to Mike Cahill for trying something a bit different in the small indie drama. The success still comes from the basics, with strong chemistry between Rhoda and John and an interesting story that holds its own without the aid of (what mostly amounts to) a science fiction gimmick.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB50aBrHbu4[/youtube]

Way late review: Redbelt

Life can be strange, both the real and the fantasy portrayed on the screen. Fact is often stranger than fiction yet how is it that fiction can seem so unlikely? Redbelt is one of those films that pushes believability to its limits as conniving individuals weave together a scheme which relies on intricate details playing out just so. Thankfully the film is in the steady hands of writer and director David Mamet and a solid cast.

Michael Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Jiu Jitsu black belt. He is a man of principle and runs his school strictly on those principles which means he barely makes any money. No matter, Terry is more concerned with maintaining his integrity. His wife, however, is not. She worries about how they’re going to live while Terry’s business can barely make rent and her own business (clothes) struggles to keep them out of the red.

After one of the roughest martial arts classes I’ve ever witnessed finishes with police officer Joe Collins (Max Martini) nearly passing out in a choke hold by another student, Laura Black (Emily Mortimer) enters in from the rain rattled. She’s smashed into Terry’s truck. She is all nerves which leads her to grab officer Collins’ gun and accidentally fire it when she mistakes the off duty cop’s motion towards her as threatening. And just like that the plot thickens.

One event leads to another in mostly believable ways to the point where Terry finds himself working with a famous action movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen) on the set of the star’s next film. If it sounds a bit convoluted, it kind of is, but the pace is so quick it’s forgivable.

Behind the scenes, there are plans to get a compelling mixed martial arts competition going. The promoters aren’t thrilled with the prospects. I imagine it’s what today’s heavyweight boxing promoters feel like. The money men would love to get Terry in the ring. He’s known to be one of the best but refuses to fight in competitions because there is no honor in fighting competitively. Again, the principled man finds himself walking away from money.

A more unwieldy chain of events takes place that leads Terry into the ring. He’s fighting to win money not for himself or his wife but for the widow of officer Collins, who committed suicide at least partially due to the mess his sensei unknowingly got him into. The final twist just before the bout may push the plausibility factor. No matter, the setup for the final fight and the ending are worth it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor commands every moment on the screen. Mamet’s dialog is as crisp as always. In fact, the dialog often feels as though it’s human beings speaking and not uber smart beings that only appear to be human. This is a problem I’ve found some of Mamet’s other screenplays have suffered from. The story could stand one or two less hard to believe connected events that turn into one well orchestrated con. But when the pacing is so fast and the acting so strong the faults become slight.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA_L-riL5ik[/youtube]

Way late review: Courage Under Fire

Hollywood should thank George Bush for the war in Iraq. I think the wars there alone have provided no shortage of feature length films and documentaries – some them are even above average. Burn. The temptation is too great for most to politicize the war, no matter their political leanings. Instead of telling good stories we get messages blasted at us, most often times painfully simplistic messages that only serve the purpose to rally one side of the political aisle. Thankfully, Courage Under Fire does not fall into the trap.

Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) is in charge of an investigation to confirm Capt. Karen Walden’s (Meg Ryan) worthiness of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Serling is no stranger to these investigations, nor the medals. He was in Iraq leading a brigade of tanks which resulted in friendly fire that killed one of Serling’s close friends. The Army helped Serling see the truth in the matter and the potential problem disappeared. Except it didn’t disappear for Serling or the parents of the man who was killed. Serling couldn’t clear his conscience and the parents wanted straight answers about their son’s death.

The investigation seems rather clear cut at first. Serling interviews the men who were saved by Walden. They vouch for her heroics in saving their lives by valiantly fighting to the bitter end after Walden’s medic chopper went down and her crew was left between enemy forces and the troops who were saved. Not satisfied with rubber stamping his approval, Serling interviews each of the remaining members from Walden’s chopper. Whether its his own guilty conscience causing him to press harder for a full picture of the events that took place, or something else entirely, the Lt. Col. is on a mission to know the truth.

In between chasing down interviews, Serling displays signs of the effects his own wartime efforts have had on him. He hits the alcohol with abandon any chance he gets. His relationship with his wife and kids is nearly non-existent. When he is home he is only there physically. Nevertheless, Serling soldiers on with the investigation, deterring health, family life and all.

The investigation leads Serling down some strange paths. He meets two members of Walden’s crew from that fateful event and something doesn’t add up. Ilario (Matt Damon) and Monfriez (Lou Diamon Phillips) give signs that one or both of them is not telling the truth. Serling digs deeper and, at the same time, drinks heavier. To make matters worse, a news reporter is hounding the Lt. Col. for the truth about the events that haunt the man who can barely walk home after drinking at whatever bar is near by.

The storytelling is strong overall, with an engaging mystery carrying the plot forward. The re-enactments of the events in question make for a good mystery. Though, if anyone gets an award for worst southern accent of all time, it goes to Meg Ryan. Her fake southern drawl only gets worse when she yells orders at her troops or gets highly emotional. Terrible performance. Good thing everyone else rises to the occasion and gives solid performances all the way around.

The ending is a bit too nicely wrapped up for my tastes. The movie has a fairly dark tone throughout but the filmmakers must have sensed the mood needs to drastically make an uptick right at the end less people leave on a down note. At least they didn’t sense the need to hammer home points about the war, which would have ruined a very good film.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZQE49MjyYQ[/youtube]

Way late review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If ever there was a film where I felt like I should have had a hard time staying awake, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would be it. A “slow burn” if ever there was one. Scratch that. It’s a slow burn hitching a ride on a tortoise.

The Cold War is on and there is a spy within the ranks of MI-6. Former agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought back, years after being fired, to head up the investigation. His detective work leads him through all the potential suspects. He digs into every aspect of their whereabouts during a botched Hungarian operation. Smiley is looked upon with much suspicion since his sudden return leads many to doubt his allegiances.

Even though it is one of the quieter spy movies, Tinker has an appeal in the way some of the best documentaries do. We get to observe people doing their jobs. We get to observe them skillfully go about their business. Of course, the characters and plot here are all fiction, but the appeal of the performances and the realism of the setting make for an oddly engaging film.

The plot is not all that inventive. Spies who work both sides are nothing unusual, at least not in fiction. There are interesting sub-plots though; small stories within the larger investigation that are more thrilling than Smiley cracking the case.

Staying awake during a film is not a ringing endorsement. Yet Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of those films that tests your patience with its deliberate pace and, at the same time, wins you over with great performances and attention to details normally left out of the modern day spy genre.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZYXiHUdCXQ[/youtube]

Way late review: Melancholia

Driving home a point in storytelling is tricky. For instance, you can go the route of a film like Fireproof which makes no attempt at subtlety. The message is front and center, with the story taking a backseat. And while Lars von Trier’s Melancholia does not preach, it also makes no attempt to hide its core purpose of showing the despair one can feel at the greatest depths of depression and anxiety. The title alone wears its heart on its sleeve.

A previously unknown planet, Melancholia, is on a collision course with Earth. Life goes on for sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). After a Tree of Life like, operatic montage, we’re thrown into Justine and her new husband, Michael (Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd), trying to make it up a long winding road to Claire and her husband John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) mansion on an 18-hole golf course. They are running late for their own wedding reception and the stretch limo isn’t helping matters. From there the first half of the movie is reminiscent of Rachel Getting Married, complete with an impromptu embarrassing speech given by a close family member.

At first it appears that Justine is in post-wedding bliss. She and Michael exchange adoring smiles at one another as they laugh about their predicament of not being able to make it up the road to their own wedding reception. As the reception begins and family dynamics start to play out, it becomes clear Justine is not quite right. She is withdrawn. Her husband tries to comfort her but it’s no use. Her sister confronts her and asks Justine to not ruin a beautiful celebration. The night wears on and Justine withdraws from everyone in ways that lead to odd, selfish behavior which has long term consequences. All the while, those surrounding Justine seem to want her to simply move on, to be happy and live life to its fullest, ignoring the direness Justine feels and her actions begin to display.

Some time passes and Justine returns to Claire and John’s place. She is a zombie. She sleeps all the time and is barely coherent. Her depression is on full display. No more empty smiles and attempts at laughter. Claire does her best to tend to her sister while she herself obsesses over the possibility that Melancholia is going to smash into Earth. John, who is fascinated by astronomy, assures his wife that scientists believe the two planets will not collide and life as they know it will continue. Despite the assurances, Claire is anxious. She has a sister lost in the depths of depression and can’t escape the thought that the end of the world is only days away. She pours herself into helping Justine get better, encouraging her to ride horses, eat meals with the family; stay active. At the same time, Claire also purchases medicine for an apparent suicide. Justine seems unconcerned about the end of the world. She welcomes it. Claire fears it yet makes plans for ending life on her own terms.

The theme of depression and anxiety set to the impending doom of the planet Earth is interesting if not ultimately fatalistic. From opening with an apocalyptic montage to jumping into the relative mundaneness of a wedding reception, the contrasts are jarring. And while the opening and closing of the film are as cinematic as any, the bulk of the film is shot in more of a run-n-gun style, with the camera zooming in and out in ways that are unusual for most feature length films. Contrasts are everywhere and yet one consistency throughout the film is how Justine’s depression and Claire’s anxiety are handled by those around them. For the most part, they are treated as “this to shall pass” and not taken seriously. It’s as if friends and loved ones want to give pat answers so no one needs to get bogged down in the messiness that is the desperation and fear the two sisters feel.

Not a feel good film, Melancholia does succeed at conveying the entrapment felt by those who suffer from from depression and anxiety. The story never goes beyond a loose narrative, just enough to keep forward progression and allow the actors to lead the way all while a mysterious blue planet careens towards Earth. Subtle it is not.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzD0U841LRM[/youtube]

Way late review: Kramer vs. Kramer

Dustin Hoffman is short. He’s really short. In Kramer vs. Kramer he has a six year old son and it looks as though his son will be hovering over dad within a year max. Too bad height doesn’t determine one’s acting chops. Otherwise I’d be a decent actor. Hoffman puts on one of his finest performances in the 1979 Oscar winner. He wins a little gold trophy as does his counterpart, Meryl Streep. Not bad, and all in a film where melodrama could easily trump the natural drama in which a barely there father becomes an only parent overnight thanks to his wife walking out on him and his son.

Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is making his way up the corporate ladder at an advertising firm. He’s landing and managing ever larger accounts. Meanwhile his wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep), and son, Billy (Justin Henry), hardly make it on the ad man’s radar. Joanna decides she’s had enough and abruptly walks out on her husband and child. Ted is convinced this is an irrational act committed in anger, she’ll be back in a matter of hours. She never shows and Ted begins to realize what life is like as a single parent.

The driver in the two first acts of the film are that of Ted and Billy getting to at first know one another on the level of a healthy father and son relationship, followed up by a growing bond between the two. In between the developing relationship between he and his son, Ted wrestles with balancing his work with his new found responsibilities. The daunting nature of the challenge is hard to miss. The breaking points are in the smallest of moments early on when Ted is still coming to grips with having to care for Billy without any help.

Unlike many modern day dramas, Kramer vs. Kramer uses very little music to signal the emotional cues. In place of a sweeping, sappy soundtrack is an incredible set of performances by Hoffman, Streep, and even Justin Henry as Billy. Most child actors in this type of film fall into the trap of being overly emotional in response to the situation or serving as comic relief, but Henry’s performance never does either. He is a child coping with the loss of his mom and adjusting to life with a father he hardly knows.

The courtroom drama that drives the last third of the film, and earns it its title, does tend to swing an emotional hammer in intense questioning between lawyers and the two parents. The scenes are believable and convey the outrage felt by this mother and father fighting over the custody of their child. The case seems sealed and shut from the viewer’s perspective, which makes the outcome a punch to the gut.

If you’re feeling down about your own parenting, want to watch two of the finest actors alive today give landmark performances, or simply want to feel taller, Kramer vs. Kramer is a can’t miss film.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNLcfJ06y34[/youtube]

Way late review: Young Adult

At least one definition of narcissism is stated as “Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.” Or see the main character in Young Adult, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron). She is the walking definition.

Mavis writes young adult fiction. Throughout the film she struggles to write one last book in a series she is the ghost writer for. It becomes clear that Mavis is not so much writing about a teenage character set in a different world. She writes what she knows and what she knows, or at least thinks she knows, is herself. There is an interesting play of meta narrative going on whenever the author sits with her laptop and types some new prose.

After she receives an email from her old boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his new baby, Mavis becomes obsessed with Buddy. She is so consumed with her self that she can only see one reason she received the email – to make her jealous. On a spur of the moment, after viewing the baby’s picture one too many times, the self-obsessed writer throws some clothes in a bag, shoves her dog in a small case and makes her way back to her small Minnesota town, leaving Minneapolis behind. Her mission is a simple one. She wants to have Buddy for herself once again. He’s not happy without her, at least that’s what Mavis would have everyone who will listen believe.

One of those Mavis confesses her twisted plot with is Matt (Patton Oswalt), who graduated in Mavis’ class. Matt uses a crutch to get around. In high school he was jumped by some fellow classmates and nearly beaten to death. He tells Mavis that he got a lot of attention and sympathy from all around the world when it was thought that he was gay. But once Matt made it clear that he wasn’t gay, the sympathy and attention dissipated almost overnight. He quips that the act was heinous when it was a hate crime but not quite so bad when it was some jocks beating a fat kid with a crow bar. Matt is honest, sometimes painfully so. He doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy for his plight. He seems to cynically accept his position in life.

Matt’s penchant for telling the truth serves, at least at first, as Mavis’ missing conscience. He is vocal in his opposition to Mavis’ plan to steal Buddy away from a happy marriage with a new baby. He even goes out of his way to run interference when Buddy and Mavis meet for drinks at the bar Matt works at. Buddy seems naive in all of this. His happy-go-lucky attitude and clear devotion for his wife and child are juxtaposed up against his former high school girlfriend’s egocentricity.

The journey to destroy a marriage and fulfill the selfish desires of a despicable character does not sound fun but the way that the screenplay writer, Diablo Cody (most famous for writing Juno), positions her extremely narcissistic main character with a backdrop of decent human beings makes things fun. We can never cheer for our main character. Her plans and her ways are never worth cheering for. But we can laugh at the absurdity of her behavior, realizing that when we give into our own notions of self-importance, our vanity, we transform into creatures not unlike Mavis. And in the end, Young Adult serves as a warning for those of us who might think we’re far away from ever being like Mavis.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=837x7vitY0Q[/youtube]