I was dating a woman I brought to the screening of Juno, and she lost her mind, screaming all the way home about how horrible the movie was. It was certainly flawed, but I thought it was a good enough dark comedy. Yet every movie director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody have done since, has disappointed me.
The satires Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air…were almost good movies. Labor Day was awful. Men, Women, and Children made my worst list the year it came out. Young Adult, also starring Charlize Theron, was also very close to being a good movie, but didn’t quite get there. This is their third movie together, bringing Theron back. She gained 50 pounds to play a mom who’s just given birth [side note: it was amazing when De Niro gained weight in Raging Bull, and bulked up for Cape Fear, but…ever since Christian Bale lost so much weight for The Machinist…you wonder why they don’t just use padding and special effects instead of making actors put their bodies through the wringer. That can’t be healthy].
Theron plays Marlo, who has two other children, and is having a tough time of it all. Some write-ups on this film are claiming she suffers postpartum depression, but there’s really no evidence of that. She’s just worn out. And things aren’t helped by the fact that she has a son with some kind of disability. It’s interesting that she tells the school principal that three different doctors couldn’t diagnose the “quirky” kid, but he screams and freaks out hearing toilets flush and has to have his skin brushed each morning or he can’t get along with his day. Hmmm…has any doctor considered autism as the cause? And, does the filmmaker want us to be mad that the school has a problem with him being disruptive?
Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston of Office Space) is a nice enough guy, but he seems content with coming home from work, giving his wife grief for merely heating up a frozen pizza for dinner, and playing video games in the bedroom.
When baby Mia comes along, things get worse. In one of the rare scenes in the movie that works, there’s a quick montage showing her various chores repeating each day. It’s the perfect way to convey how tiring and monotonous a mother’s job could be, and why you might shoot daggers at your husband that wonders why there’s no fancy dinner prepared.
Livingston does a great job playing a somewhat lazy father that we don’t hate. He’s nice enough to his wife, and occasionally helps the kids with homework. Theron has a performance that’s emotionally raw and worthy of the praise it’s getting. It’s just a shame that Diablo Cody doesn’t write a more interesting script that’s not so derivative. On one hand, I like that she left her snarky sarcasm behind. She has a tendency to write all her characters in one voice — hers. It was refreshing that she avoided that here, but there’s just not enough going on of interest. Even when the free spirit shows up. She’s the “night nanny” (Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis) that their wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) got them. She’s like Mary Poppins meets Juno, and despite her reluctance to use her, Marlo gives in. The nanny cleans the house, bakes cupcakes for school functions, and spouts words of wisdom and fun facts; but they’re never as interesting for the audience as they should be. That gets you wondering, as Marlo said early on, is this nanny going to kill her and take over her family? Uh, no. She’ll just end up telling Marlo how to spice up her sex life, or convince her to go to a club to jump in the mosh pit with a heavy metal band on stage.
There’s a scene that involves a sexy waitress outfit brought in to spice up the couple’s sex life, and it’s utterly ridiculous on every level. Even more so when you find out things later in the movie.
Everything in this feels like it’s been done better in other movies. One critic I was talking with challenged me on this, talking about the scene in a disgusting CBGB style bathroom, getting the milk out of her breasts to alleviate the pain. I quickly shot back “Neighbors. And it was hysterically done.”
The only thing that seemed to bother that critic about the movie was that the principal (Gameela Wright) was black. He wondered why that’s always the case, and if it’s the way studios can say they have an inclusive cast. I don’t have a problem with that, perhaps because as a kid, I watched the show The White Shadow. I had a crush on that African-American principal, and liked how she always kept the white basketball coach in check. I also liked the fact that in this movie, they didn’t make the principal’s character evil. She wanted to work with the mother, and find out what was best for Jonah. It’s Marlo, despite being at her wit’s end, that comes away looking like that annoying person we all have to deal with at restaurants and movie theatres. You know the ones. They bring their babies or 4-year-olds in, and when the kid starts carrying on and screaming, they do nothing about it, and we all just have to deal with our evening being ruined. But I digress.
This movie is being talked about as a film dealing with postpartum depression, but I’m not sure postpartum manifests itself that way. My friend had it, and killed herself. In this movie, she just gets exhausted and sees things. That leads to goofy imagery involving mermaids and other things.
There’s a big reveal that I saw coming, and even for those that don’t, I can’t see you being blown away by it. It will garner nothing more than a shrug.
This has a good cast, and was a great subject to tackle, but it had too many missteps.
1 ½ stars out of 5.