Described as a "psychotic prom-queen bitch," the antiheroine of Young Adult, directed by Jason Reitman from a Diablo Cody screenplay, is a prize part for Charlize Theron. She plays Mavis, a 37-year-old writer of high-school romance fiction, as well as a divorcee, an alcoholic, and a slovenly, spiteful, self-absorbed case of arrested development. While working on the last book in a series, she is plunged into an existential crisis—if not temporary insanity—with the receipt of a mass e-mail announcing her high-school boyfriend Buddy's fatherhood. Leaving the previous night's date snoring in her bed, she packs up and drives back to Mercury, Minnesota. A woman on a mission to break up the boyfriend's marriage and—who knows the precise fantasy?—maybe start anew, Mavis cold-calls her ex (Patrick Wilson), then heads into a bar inhabited by an affable schlub (Patton Oswalt), whom she proceeds to get hammered with—and not for the last time. An extended lost weekend, Young Adult has the former prom queen waking each morning from a drunken stupor to spend the afternoon dolling herself up for the evening's "date" with Buddy. The film might be brushed off as curdled rom-com were it not for two things: the depth of Theron's performance and the utter absence of the corny rehabilitation found in Reitman and Cody's Juno. There's no pot of small-town virtue at the end of this narrative rainbow, and Mavis' bitchiness remains intact.
Theron (with Oswalt watching) as the teen who won't grow up.
Opens at Guild 45th and other theaters, Fri., Dec. 16. Rated R. 94 minutes.