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young-adult-back1Every now and again Charlize Theron has to remind us that there is more to her than flashy perfume ads. In “Monster” she showed off her dramatic chops. In her new film, “Young Adult,” she goes one better, displaying her rarely seen facility for dramedy, a pitch perfect blend of drama and comedy.

Written by “Juno” scribe Diablo Cody “Young Adult” centers on Mavis Grey (Theron), a ghostwriter of novels for teens. She’s a small town girl who made it big in the city, Minneapolis–or “Mini Apple” as he locals call it–but she hasn’t matured much beyond the teen queens she writes about. She was the pretty mean girl in high school who was used to getting everything she wanted. trouble is, she’s now 38 and things don’t come as easily anymore. When an invite to a baby shower from her ex-boyfriend arrives, she decides her route to happiness leads back to her hometown and the arms of her ex.

Like Jason Reitman’s other films—”Juno,” “Thank You for Smoking” and “Up in the Air”—”Young Adult” is character driven and as much about the drama as it is the laughs.

Theron isn’t known for her lighter roles, but reinvents herself as Mavis. She’s equal parts “psychotic prom queen bitch” and woman on the edge, teetering between narcissism and alcoholism. Theron nails the part to the wall. It’s rare to find a part that balances her etherial beauty against a tragic-comic premise. She has most of the movie’s best lines, wears too much make-up, likes to “get loaded” and casually sniffs glue. The casting may have seemed counter intuitive but now I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Hopefully this expansion of her range means she will never again say yes to movies like Aeon Flux.

Her love interest is played by Patrick Wilson, but the more interesting supporting performance by far is Patton Oswald as a guy Mavis used to ignore in high school. He’s funny, bittersweet and brings a great deal of warmth to the movie.

“Young Adult” can’t rightly be called a comedy. It’s not “Bridesmaids,” but will amuse and move in equal doses.

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