Young Adult

In Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a self-destructive, alcoholic, emotionally-stunted ghost-writer of teen novels, who travels back to her home town in Minnesota to try to win back her own teenage sweetheart Buddy. The fact that he’s happily married with an adored new baby is narry a problem for the manipulative Mavis. Her full throttle descent into humiliation as she tries to woo him is not always easy to watch.

“Young Adult” could have played as a kind of grim Fatal Attraction (25 years old this month!). Instead it’s a cringe-making black comedy and the laugh-out-loud moments come when Mavis’ own filter is turned to off. (“I like your decor. Is it shabby chic?”) Patton Oswald plays her counterfoil, sardonically punching holes in her imagined love affair. He’s great too. Without giving too much away, it all finally builds to a crescendo of mortifying embarrassment, following which Mavis finally has to accept growing up.

Mavis’ home town of Mercury, Minnesota doesn’t exist, and although the movie did shoot on location in Minnesota, New York State took advantage of most of the stand-in. Four key scenes were shot at Woody’s Village Saloon on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park on Long Island. Newsday has a sweet tale about the Woody’s manager who ended up an extra in some of the scenes.

Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, Young Adult all hangs together rather well. Charlize is excellent, something of a tour de force – Oscar chatter abounds. However, in my jaded mind, the success of the film rests or fails, ultimately, on if you believe Charlize is actually acting, and isn’t herself a mad-crazy psychopath who has to learn to fake her emotions from a board. I’ll leave it at that.

Taking Woodstock

For all the talk that the fifties and sixties were ‘simpler times’, I can show you Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the Space Race, McCarthyism, Stonewall. But The Woodstock Festival, which crash-landed in a dairy field in New York State in the late 60’s, was to all intents and purposes, a giant pop-culture counterpoint to all that angst, a peaceful, joyous, somewhat psychedelic “coming out” of a million and a half people.

I was too young to know anything about Woodstock at the time, and having been raised in its aftermath as a preppy drone, I’d always assumed it was full of slap-able barefoot hippies going all hey-shoo-wow on us. I never thought for a moment that it might be something with which I would identify irrevocably – an anti-establishment explosion delivered without violence or polemic. That’s the true surprise of Ang Lee’s snapshot-of-the-times, Taking Woodstock, a quirky, thoughtful, intimate look at how the festival came about, and its impact on some of the people who were there.

I didn’t absolutely love the film (amongst other things, the soundtrack, of all things, is maddeningly understated) but I did love the idea of the film, and I relished the positive thoughts and the feelings it engendered about celebrating humanity and diversity and common goodness. Sadly, I’m probably the kind of guy that still wouldn’t have gone to Woodstock first time round, but at least there’s the consolation that I would have regretted that decision…..

Continue reading “Taking Woodstock”