Instead of seeing Young Adult.... watch Greenberg
The performances are terrific, Diablo Cody's script is mostly solid and Jason Reitman's direction seamless and assured. But for all that, Young Adult is still a deeply unpleasant film. Much like this year's earlier and equally disturbing Mel Gibson movie, The Beaver, it plays a mentally ill protagonist for dark laughs before allowing her to hit rock bottom in spectacularly humiliating fashion.
Charlize Theron plays the former small-town golden girl who's bottomed out at the ugly intersection of alcoholism and narcissistic personality disorder. Rousing herself from a life of convenience store meals and nightly post-drinking blackouts in her dishevelled Minneapolis apartment, she heads for her hometown intent on reuniting with her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), the happily married father of a baby girl. Theron's disconnection from reality is both chilling and sad, and Patton Oswalt provides a perfect counterpoint as the former classmate who becomes her unlikely drinking buddy. But there is a simmering undercurrent of snarky mean-spiritedness towards the townspeople (and towards Oswalt's bucktoothed sister in particular) which comes rushing to the fore in a disappointing coda. I suppose we could be thankful that Young Adult doesn't succumb to a hackneyed, "everyone learns and grows" kind of story arc. But frankly its cynical conclusion feels every bit as false and forced as a feel-good final act would have.
A much wiser, more compassionate portrait of a damaged, unlikable character is found in Noah Baumbach's underappreciated 2010 film Greenberg. Ben Stiller turns in a remarkably nuanced performance as an angry, unhappy man, newly released from a mental hospital and unable to cope with the world he finds outside, let alone re-establish old friendships that were pretty strained to begin with. Stiller's Greenberg can be viciously cruel and cold - and yet, also oddly touching in his desperate attempts to put a together a normal life. And the film is honest enough to show how some friends and family members can be startlingly insensitive to Greenberg in return. That's he's granted some measure of hard-earned redemption is testament to Baumbach's quiet generosity to the character, an attitude which would have benefitted Young Adult as well.
Instead of seeing My Week with Marilyn..... watch Me and Orson Welles
Instead of The Artist.... watch the movies it references!