***SPOILER ALERT*** This post contains serious plot spoilers for the movie Young Adult. DO NOT read any further unless you have already or will never see the movie. Consider yourself warned.
Charlize Theron as a “hot mess,” writer Diablo Cody (creator of Juno), and sidekick Patton Oswalt, and a healthy dose of early 90s nostalgia: that’s what you get with Young Adult. I didn’t think it would be a great movie though it had its share of Golden Globe buzz for the 2011 season. And by all accounts it was a movie billed as a woman struggling in her life and career returning to her hometown to recapture her glory days – and possibly even her ex-boyfriend. So this could be good, or it could be awful. Since I’ll be spoiling the crescendo, I figure I owe it to you to tell you to go see this movie – not because it will be uplifting, but because it will show with raw intensity just how much all of us sleepwalk through the present while still caught up in the past – and the cinematography’s pretty great, too.
The catalyst of Mavis’ (Theron) journey to her hometown is a birth announcement of the first baby of her teenage sweetheart, Buddy, which she receives via mass e-mail. Interpreting the announcement as a cry for help from Buddy, she flees home and sets up a few attempts to remind Buddy of just what he’s missing out on – the wild freedom of being single and childless.
Mavis is a classic anti-hero protagonist if ever there was one. She drinks (a lot), she’s cruel, selfish, depressed, demanding, desperate, and saddest of all, evidently has little respect for herself. We don’t want her to get back with Buddy. We want her to stop acting so crazy and to stop embarrassing herself. But we can’t stop watching – probably because we’re afraid one day we may end up like her.
***SPOILER ALERT*** Long story short, Mavis throws us a curveball at the climatic scene of the movie. She breaks down in front of the entire town, and we the audience believe we’re about to find out exactly why she’s so screwed up. We listen to her every word waiting for that satisfaction. And here’s a part of that devastating speech:
“Yeah, Buddy got me pregnant at 20. And we were gonna keep it! We were gonna have a little baby and a little naming party and a Funquarium. All of that. And then 12 weeks into it, well, I had Buddy’s miscarriage. Which I wouldn’t wish for anyone. Maybe if things were just a little bit more hospitable down south in my broken body, Buddy and I would be here right now with a teenager and probably even more kids because we always found each other.”
Didn’t see that one coming. And what you begin to realize in the wake of this confession is that while her miscarriage and subsequent infertility doesn’t excuse her behavior in the least, it does show how devastating that diagnosis can be, especially for someone in their 20s and madly in love. Furthermore, we see the impetus of her self-loathing and come to understand that her deep, deep depression (probably from the miscarriage and/or diagnosis) was never treated, and we feel sorry for her to have ever been put in that position. Us infertilites only know too well just how she must feel.
But this isn’t a sappy movie feeding off of the pity of the audience. Just as quickly as we understand the root of Mavis’ pain, we discover that she will not fundamentally change. It’s as if she needed to finally tell her infertility story before she could continue living her life (doesn’t truly “move on” but subsists). I respect Cody for making that choice – because life isn’t neatly packaged, formulaic, and always with a happy ending. The hero doesn’t always redeem herself. People don’t always see themselves for what they are. And all because of another unnamed infertility diagnosis that was swept under the carpet for 15 years.
Slightly depressing, sure, but at least at the end of it you’re thankful that you’re probably much better off than Mavis.