This Oscar season, PG-13 for Ugly Cast will be flipping a cordial bird to the arbitrary practice of rank-ordering movies. Instead, we will highlight a handful of Movie Things We Loved, with no pretense of objectivity or internal consistency. Deal with it.
If you thought Young Adult would be a dark comedy about a self-deluded YA author, a proud and spiteful woman who lies, drinks, snubs good people, and conspires to break up a marriage, then you’re half right. It is. But it’s also a horror movie, and Charlize Theron plays the monster. You spend the film cringing as the beautiful villain threatens to inflict pain and suffering on the innocent townsfolk. When she hits rock bottom, humiliated and hysterical before a crowd, you sigh in relief rather than sympathy. At last, the monster is vanquished!
By now, the monster realizes she has problems. Diablo Cody’s screenplay has already achieved that rare and difficult thing called a character arc, in which a human confronts her own flaws and makes a promise to change. It’s believable. It’s real.
And then a minor character comes along and convinces the character not to change.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Just as the monster awakes to her own monstrosity, culminating a painful path of self-deception and self-discovery; just as she takes the fragile first step towards improving her hellish existence; just as she’s about to grow emotionally, perhaps for the first time in her adult life; just as she’s on the cusp of progress, an old high school acquaintance reassures the monster that she’s perfect just like she is.
At first, the monster insists that she’s sick. But this woman echoes the nonsense that the monster has been telling herself for the entire film: that she’s beautiful and famous, that her hometown is a miserable dead end, that she’s better than the failures who stayed. And, soothed by pleasing lies, the monster’s resolve weakens. She loses the will to change.
It’s a hell of a finish. I’ve seen movies with happy endings, and ones with bleak endings, but I’ve never seen a movie that earned the happy ending, and then talked itself into the bleak one.