There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
The 2011 indie dramedy Young Adult.
Directed by Jason Reitman from a screenplay by Diablo Cody, Young Adult stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a middle-aged ghostwriter of a once-popular YA book series. The film follows the boozy, misanthropic Mavis as she flees Minneapolis to return to her small Minnesota hometown of Mercury, where she hopes to get her life back on track by stealing her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) from his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). She blabs her plan to her nerdy high school classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), who tries to get her to understand her recklessness before it’s too late.
Why watch now?
Because Reitman, Cody, and Theron have reunited for Tully, opening in theaters on May 4th.
In the new film, Theron plays Marlo, a middle-class mother of three who’s barely coping with her exhaustion and depression. Mark Duplass plays her rich brother Craig, who hires a preternaturally handy nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) to give her a much-needed break. Instead, the new aide starts to get into Marlo’s head, reminding her of the super-cool, super-capable young woman she used to be, pre-parenthood.
Tully debuted at Sundance in January as a surprise sneak preview — just as Get Out did the year before — and the positive word of mouth from that first screening grew even louder as Tully played around the spring film festival circuit. The movie currently has a 79 Metacritic score and a 93 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics hailing its frank, funny observations about the indignities of motherhood. Theron has also been singled out for her commitment to playing a character decidedly less badass than her recent roles in Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde.
In that way, Tully is a lot like Young Adult, where Theron’s Mavis is an immature slob, operating almost entirely on impulse. Young Adult is unusual in that its heroine is the most unlikable character on the screen, corrupting nearly everyone she meets with her selfish scheming. Yet Theron plays Mavis so unselfconsciously that even at her worst, she comes across as a real person in real pain, which makes her at least somewhat sympathetic. It’s an outstanding performance, from an actress who’s had a varied and distinguished career.
Who it’s for
Anyone who’s ever struggled with “adulting.”
Reitman and Cody became indie film darlings with 2007’s Juno, a teen pregnancy comedy notable for its snappy dialogue and its assortment of quirky characters. Young Adult ditches the earlier movie’s sense of whimsy, aiming for something more ragged, to convey Mavis’ state of mind as a former high school queen bee who’s lost her buzz. As she heads back to where she used to rule, Mavis is surprised to find that most of her peers back in Mercury are doing just fine, living fulfilling lives while tending to their marriages, children, and careers.
Young Adult’s plot takes most of its elements from bubbly romantic comedies. There’s the stuck-in-a-rut unmarried woman who cooks up a crazy plan. There’s the funny sidekick who serves as both her accomplice and her conscience. And there’s the square, handsome love interest who seems ripe to be swept away by a grand gesture. But at nearly every step, the filmmakers purposefully flatten out the formula. They make it clear that Mavis isn’t some well-meaning kook; she’s genuinely destructive. And Buddy is really better off with Beth, who’s creative and kind.
But this movie would be almost intolerably sour if Reitman, Cody, and Theron didn’t also identify with Mavis in a major way. Young Adult has a deep understanding of what its main character is going through: how she’s still defensive about and embarrassed by the way she behaved in high school. How she secretly appreciates the bland predictability of small-town America’s big-box stores and chain restaurants. And how she takes some perverse comfort in the melancholy of being single. Mavis is a broken person, but in ways a lot of viewers will find familiar.
Where to see it
Amazon Prime. For those looking for more Diablo Cody on Amazon, she’s also a co-producer with Tig Notaro on the streaming service’s One Mississippi. And for viewers who want more of a dramatically different-looking Charlize Theron, Amazon Prime subscribers can also enjoy her Oscar-winning performance in Monster.