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December 22, 2011

'Young Adult' offers some knockout performances

"Juno," the first collaboration between screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, was a light-hearted and hilarious treatment of a serious subject.

The duo's follow-up effort, "Young Adult," features a couple of knockout performances and plenty of dark humor — but this is the polar opposite of a feel-good movie.

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a recently divorced writer of young adult novels. She still looks great in sweats and a Hello Kitty T-shirt, but she's disillusioned, depressed and drinks too much.

One day, however, she's hit with a bizarre epiphany: All will be well if she just goes back to her tiny Minnesota hometown and recaptures her high-school sweetheart. The fact that he's happily married with an infant child doesn't matter in the least.

Mavis is comically self-centered and delusional — a train wreck — but she still has her looks, and can turn on the charm when she needs to. Like a conquering hero, she returns to the site of her prom queen glory and wastes little time digging her claws into her blandly perfect ex, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).

Theron truly sparkles, playing the self-destructive Mavis unflinchingly. She's thoroughly unlikable, but there's a complexity to the character that Theron captures perfectly.

The other performance of note is provided by comedian Patton Oswalt ("Big Fan"), at his absolute best as Matt, the unfortunate nerd who had the locker next to the high-school Mavis. When she returns to town, the two form an odd sort of friendship.

Matt is the one person who sees Mavis for what she is, but he just can't resist hanging out with the popular girl who's now just as damaged as he is.

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