Black-Hearted Barbie

Young Adult ★★★★
(USA, 94 min.)
Dir. Jason Reitman, Writ. Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson.
The bitch is back. Charlize Theron proved she could make us laugh when she did a five-episode stint on the tragically short-lived Arrested Development. As Rita, the plucky Brit to whom Michael Bluth was engaged until he learned her “MR. F” status, Theron showed a side of her skills that we hadn’t seen before. Theron tickles the funny bone once again, returning as a woman with arrested development in Young Adult.

Theron’s Mavis Gray is one hot mess. She was the prettiest girl in high school back when she lived in Mercury, Minnesota. Mavis still has the looks and she has some extra spunk, too, because she’s the only one from her class to have made it big, moving from Hicktown, USA to the big city. Mavis lives the high life in Minneapolis ghostwriting novels for a once-popular young adult series. (But she is “an author,” should you ask.) The Waverly High books enable Mavis to fictionalize all the angst and regret she has bottled up since high school. They also allow her to relive and continue the fantasies she had whilst growing up. She still has a long way to go, since she spends the rest of her time guzzling cheap booze, hooking up with strange men, and watching the nadir of American television. Her life seems directionless and without purpose.

She gets a new goal, though, when she learns that an old high school friend just popped out a baby. The new mother also happens to be married to Buddy (Patrick Wilson), Mavis’s old flame from the days of mix-tapes. Mavis has been pining for Buddy throughout the Waverly High series, so now it’s time to end the series by having the prom king and queen reunite in time for graduation.

Armed with a small dog, a Blackberry, and a bottomless supply of Diet Coke, Mavis returns to Mercury. Mavis also takes with her a big pink bag full of delusions. What ensues is a black comedy of a high-school reunion with Barbie, Ken, and the underdog geek (played by a funny Patton Oswalt).
With Mavis, Young Adult offers one of the best, most dead-on character studies of the year. Theron is a marvel as this black-hearted Barbie: Mavis is perfect on the outside, but dead on the inside. Theron plays the superficial bitch to perfection. Each time Mavis squints her eyes and sizes up the losers who stayed in the dearth of suburbia. Theron gives one mean stink-eye: I felt like she was judging me!

Theron also sells Mavis’s pipedreams with the wry sharpness of a seasoned alcoholic. She sprouts Mavis’s b.s. with deadpan dryness, making Mavis one of those girls you love to hate. Perhaps that’s the aim of screenwriter Diablo Cody, who seemingly gives the middle finger to all those plastic twats from high school. Cody’s screenplay is darkly hilarious. It is nonchalantly cynical and it has a keen eye for the banalities of suburban living. Cody also taps in to the insecurities one has on making a name for oneself in the post-high-school decade, and for feeling the need to impress and out do. Young Adult might seem mean-spirited to some; however, if that is the case, it is delightfully so. Young Adult is a guilty pleasure, but it’s also sharp, smart, and honest. This is one high school reunion you don’t want to miss.