In Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning role in "Monster," she played a serial killer whose unbridled rage was targeted on others. In her new film, "Young Adult," she's also very convincing - and perhaps more unlikable - as a woman whose hurt is mainly turned inward.
With the prickliness of a poisonous cactus, Theron plays Mavis Gary, the divorced, alcoholic ghostwriter of a series of increasingly unpopular young adult novels who lives in a Minneapolis high-rise. After a night of anonymous sex, she concocts the bad idea to return to her hometown in Northern Minnesota to recreate the high school romance she had with the star athlete (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he's happily married and the father of a new baby girl. Though she fondly remembers her status in high school as a popular blonde bombshell, former classmates who never left the town recall only the "psycho prom queen bitch."
The movie marks the reunion of "Juno" writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, whose pairing gives its comedic structure sharp, dark edges. Theron is wonderful as a beautiful woman whose unattractive desperation is masked by meanness and mouthiness. And her best scenes are with comedian Patton Oswalt, playing another former classmate whose locker was next to Mavis's yet was completely invisible to her. Nineteen years later, though, they form a band of equals - two sad people bearing the scars of how poorly people can treat each other and, where there's a lack of easy victims, themselves.