Charlize Theron is ugly in Young Adult, the new film from the Juno team of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody — both literally and personally. In parts of the film, she still looks like her knockout movie-star self, but in other parts, she looks like she's aged a year for every day since her character, Mavis Gary, left high school.
Nevertheless, it's not Mavis' failure to look like a knockout that's most disorienting, as Cody discusses with Renee Montagne on Friday's Morning Edition. It's the dark selfishness of her quest to blow into her old hometown, break up her high school boyfriend's marriage and claim him for herself. She's not deterred by the fact that he and his wife just had a baby, either. In fact, it's that, and not love, that motivates her.
Cody says, "It's maddening for her to see someone she considers 'less than' — she felt that she had moved beyond him and become more successful than him, and now he has the audacity to be happy and have a child, and she can't handle that." And lest you think this is a replay of My Best Friend's Wedding, Cody had no intentions of replaying what she calls the "trope" of the woman who is desperate to reclaim her lost love while the man who's right for her languishes before her eyes. "I thought, well, what's a way that I can turn this on its ear and do something that's really dark and unexpected?"
Mavis' journey is, indeed, nothing if not dark. She has no shame in telling a saleswoman that the reason she's shopping for an outfit is to snatch away a married man. And Cody says her bluntness and plain-spokenness about her nasty motives didn't happen accidentally: "I noticed in so many conventional romantic comedies, the women are always getting flustered. She never is. She blatantly tells the saleswoman that she's trying to break up a marriage."
This is not Theron's first foray into real darkness, of course. Cody remembers, as audiences undoubtedly will, the work that Theron did in Monster, where she won a boatload of awards — including an Oscar — for her portrayal of executed serial killer Aileen Wuornos. There, Theron changed herself physically: she gained weight and wore extensive makeup for the role to change her appearance. Here, as Cody puts it, "she had to find a way to make herself look haggard just using her natural acting ability. In Monster, there was a physical transformation, whereas here, she continued to be herself and the being haggard couldn't be makeup or gained weight."
Cody says Mavis is the kind of character — deeply unpleasant — that she wasn't certain audiences would accept. "I had honestly never seen anything like it before, except in certain instances with male leads. I think we're more conditioned to accept a male curmudgeon or a male antihero."
If indeed Mavis is an antihero, it's not surprising to learn that Cody found it a little unnerving to be told by her husband that she reminded him of this character more than any other she's written. At first, she bristled, but then it occurred to her that this was perhaps not just about her, but was about the broader way society is changing.
"I feel like I'm part of a generation of people who are stuck in the past and are really self-absorbed. I mean, we're actually taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on Facebook, and keeping in touch with people that should have been out of our lives 15 years ago. Obsessing over who's getting married, who's having kids, who's more successful. It's like we're recreating high school every single day using social media. And it's weird."