Saturday, December 24, 2011

Young Adult

Most people never move away. Statistics show that there is less geographic mobility (that is, people moving from one place to another) in each decade since they started tracking such statistics in the late 1940s. In 2004, only 18% of people moved, and of those 58% moved within the same county; only about 1 in 50 moved to a different state or country. The numbers are even lower as you go down the income ladder.

Everybody stays somewhere.

For most of the residents of Mercury, Minnesota they stayed in their hometown, took a job their mom or dad probably had before they retired, got married, sent their kids to the same schools they went to, and now watch soccer games from the sidelines of fields they once played on. Mavis Gary moved away, went to the big (relatively speaking) city, became a famous (relatively speaking) author. She was the one that got out. At least geographically. Emotionally, she was stuck at Mercury High (home of the Injuns! [ever interested in details, writer/director team Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman include the point that the mascot had been changed to  Indians in the name of cultural sensitivity to local peoples.).
She is forever 18. Even the once-popular series of YA books she ghost-writes are high school dramas. The movie opens as she struggles to write the last book in the series. How does she write what happens at the end of high school if she never got there herself? How does she show her character has grown up after all this time, is moving on, putting away childish things when she still walks around in Hello Kitty t-shirts?

The idea of being stuck in a rut vis a vis personal development has been a topic of much discussion in our culture, what with the rise to prominence of the Judd Apatow man-child movies. Here’s a movie that reminds us that woman-child is just as possible and problematic, only Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have the conviction of not letting her off the hook with a hunky, responsible white knight who redeems her. Her only meaningful connection in the movie is Matt, a character who, by being not dissimilarly stunted in the area of personal growth, offers her self-reflection. She claims to be in Mercury for Buddy, but she doesn’t have any interest in Buddy. What (not insignificantly, mind you, I wrote what, not who) she wants is "Buddy", the 18 year old big man on campus, the one that inspired the love interest in her books. When she tells him he might recognize the character based on his 18 year old self, you wonder if he would, and if he did if he would do so with the same approbation Mavis does.

There are conflicting impulses for people who leave home, especially when home is a small town: They want to get away and measure themselves against the world, but they also don’t want to feel like they are missing out on what’s going on back home. They want to come home and be a hero, an object of admiration. To come back and find out no one thinks about you much, they aren’t following your every move with baited breath can be humbling. What are they doing that’s so great, that I’m not THE topic of conversation?

In the end, Mavis has no great revelation or growth or change. In the first act we see her on a date with someone she met online; she's bored, barely listening (if at all) to what he says, but wakes up with his pasty arm draped over her just the same. At the end of the movie, she drunkenly, desperately, decides(?) to sleep with Matt. She wakes up with his pasty arm draped over her and maybe for the first time realizes that her station in life might be self-inflicted. This is the scariest thing. It's bad enough when things aren't going your way, worse still when it's your own fault.

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