Returning to your hometown for extended periods of time often brings one of two feelings: 1). Tremendous relief at having escaped the place where dreams go to die and 2). emptiness. Believe it or not, it’s common to experience both upon coming back to the area in which you grew up regardless of how wonderful or awful your formative years were.
This happens to Mavis Gary, a young adult fiction author and former prom queen, in “Young Adult.” Portrayed by the ever outstanding Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron, Mavis is a self-involved, callous, alcoholic ghost writer in Minneapolis who consistently wakes up in her clothes from the night before, starts her morning with a swig of Diet Coke, puts “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” on as background noise, and denies her adorable Pomeranian the kind of life a dog should have. There are pretty much no redeeming qualities to her, but as many reviewers have noted, “Young Adult” challenges the idea that the main character of a film must be likable. In 2011, I’ve seen several movies with such characters: Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher” and the entire cast of “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” to name a few flicks. The difference here is that Mavis initially comes off as washed-out and past her prime in spite of her literary achievements, which only seem impressive to the folks of her hometown.
To avoid starting the draft of her latest young adult novel, which will mark the end of the saga, Mavis scrolls through her Inbox and discovers that her high school sweetheart, Buddy has become a father with his wife.
After studying the attached photo of Buddy’s daughter, Mavis sets out to make a trip to her childhood home, Mercury, Minn., to steal her ex-flame from his family. Her motivation is unclear at first, although she makes an unfounded claim to a former classmate that she and Buddy were destined to be together. It sounds like something one of the teenage characters from her “Babysitter’s Club”-esque series would say.
And that’s the dynamic with Mavis and Buddy. They meet for drinks once Mavis gets to town, but have little to talk about. Mavis reveals that she’s newly divorced from someone named Alan, but the audience never learns the story behind this fleeting marriage. Not much is said between Mavis and Buddy, yet she’s convinced they’re still meant for each other, especially when he invites her to watch his wife’s band play at the bar the following night. How this can be perceived as a pass, I do not know, but to Mavis, this is an obvious opening.
Mavis confesses her malicious plan to Matt, a disabled former classmate and embattled school reject, who repeatedly advises her against taking the homewrecker route. She doesn’t listen and becomes delusional about the state of her relationship with Buddy, who does nothing to suggest that he wants a future with her at all.
When I first started watching “Young Adult,” I assumed Mavis only tries to woo Buddy back because there’s something missing in her life, a void she believes will be filled with a familiar romantic partner. To an extent, she is motivated by loneliness and emptiness, as her semi-celebrity status is all she has going for her. We learn towards the end, however, that there’s more to her scheme than boredom. In a somewhat surprising plot twist, we’re given information that suggests she truly did feel like she should have been the woman to have Buddy’s first child and wind up with him. Fate, she says, simply wasn’t on her side. Only in this vulnerable moment was I able to feel sorry for her. This is a person who feels she was dealt an unfair hand in life and lost her first love as a result.
We feel for her, but are quickly reminded that things aren’t so bad for 37-year-old Mavis, who is not too old to make a comeback or do something amazing. Unlike many of her schoolmates, she fled Mercury, Minn., and made somewhat of a name for herself in a big city. From the outside, this path appears glamorous and full of opportunity, and Mavis sees that city life can provide her with a chance to start fresh and continue producing good work.
My mom and I saw this movie tonight, and she kept looking over at me every time Mavis types away at her computer in unusual locations. Similar to my own, environment can either stimulate or stunt Mavis’s creative process, and she often dresses in oversized jeans and baggy sweaters when roaming her hometown. I tend to do the same thing during my visits back to Scotts Valley, as I certainly can’t sport Uggs, a green Chicago pride hoodie, and Buckle jeans in New York City. I wore all three of those things to the cinema, and oddly enough, Mavis dons the same exact ensemble in the middle of the film.
“Hey look, Laura, you’re both writers wearing green sweaters and brown Uggs,” my mom said during the movie.
She was correct, and I hoped this didn’t put me in the same category as Mavis, who loafs around in Hello Kitty tops and her boyfriend’s high school sports team hoodie. It was only fitting that I saw “Young Adult” during my “winter vacation,” which began feeling a bit too long a week ago. Unlike Mavis, I came back home to see family members and catch my breath, as I haven’t really stopped moving since June, but Scotts Valley inevitably messes with my mind during long visits. The trip has resurrected some of my high school habits: Going to Los Gallos for burritos, giggling with Crystal, Lauren, and Nikita too loud in public, taking long walks with my dog, and being on the look-out for cars belonging to people I know. There are still some folks I wonder about, and coming home forces me to think about them constantly. I do have to ask myself, though, would I be thinking about this individual if my non-professional New York life was satisfying and fulfilling? That’s a question I won’t have the answer to until I establish a stable social life and get fully settled in my new city. Even if things were perfect over there, though, I get the feeling that returning home will always be painful, as it’s a reminder of a failed relationship that I had and burned bridge.
In the end, we’re all young adults in some way, whether we booze too much like Mavis, are underemployed like all the lost 20-somethings out there, or still ask ourselves what went wrong with that one relationship we had that showed promise. I’m lucky to be in a profession I love and among so many amazing, inspiring, intelligent folks in New York, but aware that building a strong personal life for myself there is something I have yet to do. Mavis finds herself in the same boat towards the end of the movie and seems to want to change her ways, and I can do the same. Hopefully this will make it easier to wipe my memory of my last few years spent in Scotts Valley. Coming home to a wave of nostalgia should be sweet, but simply isn’t that way anymore for me, nor is it for Mavis.