Friday, January 20, 2012

Worth Mentioning - The Ayes Are Above the Noes

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody discusses a couple movies with characters even more stuck in the past than himself.


I'm a big fan of screenwriter Diablo Cody. I loved her debut film Juno, and while that film's popularity spawned a backlash against her - with online detractors often showing a very ugly sexism in their pointless diatribes - I remained impressed by the talent she showed in that film's dialogue, where it seemed like every exchange was worked on with great care to make sure that it was all perfectly in line with the film's own specific language. Maybe that wasn't the case, maybe Diablo Cody is so badass that she just typed it up as is on the first run through, but I was impressed either way and was glad to see her win the Oscar. I found her horror genre follow-up Jennifer's Body to be one of the most entertaining films of 2009, and I watched every episode of her Showtime series The United States of Tara with my mother. Young Adult
re-teams her with Juno director Jason Reitman, who I think is one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working. If it had been my choice, his film Up in the Air would've won Best Picture of '09. 

Cody and Reitman do excellent work together again here, telling the story of Mavis Gary, a woman who escaped her small Minnesota town to the big city of Minneapolis, where she has gained some success as a ghostwriter on a series of young adult novels. Mavis is shaken out of her routine - which currently consists of trying to work on the last book in the canceled series, watching lots of MTV reality shows, and boozing herself to sleep - when she gets an e-mail from a married ex-boyfriend announcing the birth of his child. Mavis obsesses over the baby picture included in the e-mail until one day she packs up her dog and hits the road back to her hometown with plans to hook up with her ex and liberate him from the jail of small town domesticity that he has just locked himself up in.

Charlize Theron is fantastic as Mavis, making her captivating despite her plans and behavior. Patton Oswalt gives a great performance as the sensible confidante she inadvertently gains along the way, a character that feels like it was written with him in mind. Patrick Wilson does fine work as Mavis's former love, and kudos to the costume designer and others involved in putting together his look, as he comes off like an average, scruffy, flannel-clad small town guy. The look of the small town characters rang true for me across the board, which may be an odd thing to fixate on, but they seemed like people I'd see when I'm out and about... Even if this little "hick town" that Mavis hates is the kind of "big city" that people in my area would drive the better part of an hour to do something in.

Young Adult is very good for most of its running time, then it reaches another level in its final scenes, as formula is twisted and revelations add a new layer to everything that came before. Reitman has said that the script's final scenes are what made him want to direct the film. I can totally understand that.


The small town of Taft (formerly Moron), California is known for two things: its terrible weather and disappointing sports. The high school football team is destroyed by the Bakersfield team every year, usually 82 to 6. But in 1972, Taft had a chance. Led by talented quarterback Reno Hightower, Taft was able to hold its own against Bakersfield in a game that was still scoreless in the final seconds. As the clock counted down, Reno managed to throw a pass before being smashed by half the Bakersfield team and receiving a career-ending knee injury. Teammate Jack Dundee was wide open, the pass was good... and Jack missed an easy catch.

Thirteen years later, Jack is still haunted by that fumble, obsessed with the idea that his life would be much better if he had caught that ball. His obsession is so bad that it's even hurting his marriage. Reno, now a struggling auto mechanic, is also having marriage troubles, as his wife is desperate to escape their depressing little town and pursue her dream career as a singer.

Jack comes up with an idea that he thinks will revitalize himself, Reno, the whole town: the '72 Taft/Bakersfield game has to be re-staged and completely re-played. Jack needs a second chance and will do anything to make this happen.

Roger Spottiswoode (Terror Train, Tomorrow Never Dies) directs this football comedy from a screenplay by Ron Shelton, who's had a successful career comprised almost entirely of sports-related movies. Robin Williams stars as Jack, Reno is played by the ever cool Kurt Russell. The supporting cast includes Pamela Reed, Holly Palance (Spottiswoode's wife and daughter of Jack Palance), Donald Moffat, M. Emmet Walsh, R.G. Armstrong, Dub Taylor, and Robyn Lively, with Kirk Cameron in a small role.

For some reason, this film seems to have faded into obscurity. I wouldn't quite call it a forgotten gem, but it's just shy of gem status. It's a very enjoyable watch, entertaining with some good laughs, and worth checking out.

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