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Film / Young Adult

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A 2011 film written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman, and starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a young adult fiction writer who, pining for her glory days in high school, returns to her small town in an effort to win back her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Considering that he's happily married with a newborn baby, this proves to be a somewhat more difficult task than Mavis had thought it would be. She also bonds unexpectedly with former classmate Matt (Oswalt) who is also having trouble letting go of the past.


  • Adam Westing: A screenwriting example. Mavis' character flaws reflect virtually every criticism that had ever been hurled at Diablo Cody's writing and public persona in the past.
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: In a subtle example, Mavis. Occasionally she is seen wearing things a High Schooler might wear (like a Hello Kitty T-shirt and a hoodie with the school's football team's logo on it) but what an adult woman would not wear. Matt calls her out on the hoodie.
  • The Alcoholic: Mavis. She knocks back a serious amount of hard liquor in many scenes and is shown passed out on her bed every single morning. She ultimately realizes this and confesses to her parents, but they laugh it off as a joke.
  • Alpha Bitch: Apparently, Mavis was this in her high school days. She still acts like she is, but it doesn't fool anyone. Buddy's wife reveals that she along with many other people feel sorry for her, and that's why she had made Buddy be nice to her when he didn't really want anything to do with her.
  • Ambiguously Gay: May cross over into Les Yay, but there are odd hints that Sandra (Matt's sister) may have or have had a crush on Mavis. Leaving Rice Crispie Treats in her locker, when they weren't even friends, for example. The end where she begs to let her come back to Minneapolis with her also hints at it.
  • Apathetic Clerk: The young female clerk at the hotel where Mavis stays at her hometown is a classic example, never speaking above a monotone even when Mavis clearly sneaks a dog in a bag into her room.
  • Author Avatar: The character of Kendall in Mavis' Waverly Prep books. Word of God says that Mavis herself is also this to Diablo Cody.
  • Blatant Lies: "Is that a dog in your bag?" "Noooooooo...."
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Mavis getting out of bed with someone, realizing that this isn't what she wants, and leaving the town she's in.
  • Bully Brutality: Matt was so severely bullied in high school that he's now permanently disabled.
  • Child Hater: Seemingly Mavis, given her reaction to Buddy's newborn daughter. However, this is thrown into a new (possibly sympathetic) light when she reveals that Buddy had gotten her pregnant at age 20 and she suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks, which presumably led to their break-up. They had been planning to keep the baby.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Mavis during her Villainous Breakdown.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mavis is this pretty much always, except when she's around Buddy.
  • Deconstruction: A massive one. This is as unlike Sweet Home Alabama as you could get.
  • Disposable Wife: Averted. Mavis desperately wants Buddy's wife to be this, but she's a perfectly nice woman and he has no intention of leaving her.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Young Adult" is the name of the genre/demographic of Mavis's books, but also a description of Mavis herself and her level of maturity.
  • Downer Ending: Mavis's plan to get back together with Buddy predictably fails. His and Beth's marriage is fine, but Mavis still ruined their party. Mavis destroys her 'relationship' with Buddy and everyone else in Mercury, probably including her own parents, and just when it looks like she's about to have some serious introspection, she ultimately learns nothing from the whole experience.note  Then, in the parking lot, Mavis stares at her beat-up car with a troubled expression…
  • Extruded Book Product: Waverly Prep, which Mavis is a ghostwriter for.
  • Fake Texting: Mavis appears to be texting while waiting for Buddy; the camera immediately cuts to show her typing gibberish into a message with no chosen contact number.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • When Matt takes his shirt off. What makes it all the more awkward is that he's clearly aware of it.
    • Mavis in a very unflattering forward posture wearing tummy-support pantyhose and "chicken fillet" breast enhancers sticking to her boobs, with her makeup running.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Waverly Prep bears more than a few resemblances to The Clique (down to its very shallow popularity-obsessed characters based off of what's trending at the time of writing, being set in a very rich New York locale, the seeming churning out of titles and quick publishing demand and sudden bottoming-out of popularity/relegation to clearance sale shelves).
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: During the film's ending sequence, you get can a glimpse of Mavis's ending for Waverly Prep. Beyond just what she actually narrates, you can see that she showered her self-insert in multiple Ivy League acceptances and other achievements. She also condemns the Buddy and Beth stand-ins to a "horrible" death-by-drowning.
  • Future Loser: You wouldn't necessarily know it at first; Mavis, who was queen of the high school, still looks to her former classmates like the model of popularity and success as an adult, with a cool job and a nice apartment in the big city. But it's a front; in reality she's an alcoholic wreck who's constantly on the verge of being fired and she pines for high school. Those who see past the facade feel more pity for her than admiration.
  • Ghostwriter: Mavis Gary ghostwrites for an extruded YA series called Waverly Prep, using it to relive her own high school Glory Days.
  • Grief-Induced Split: Mavis's miscarriage is implied to be why she and Buddy split. He's moved on. She hasn't.
  • Groin Attack: Part of Matt's disability is that due to being hit in that area, everything's not that great downstairs.
  • Hated Hometown: When asked by Matt if she's moving back to Mercury, Mavis' response is "Ew, gross. No."
  • Her Boyfriend's Jacket: In her room back home, Mavis finds Buddy's old football green hoodie with his name on it. Wanting to get him back (and steal him from his wife), she starts wearing it. Matt ridicules her for it.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Mavis's book is a rare professional example, showcasing her Ignored Epiphany and lack of Character Development.
  • Hypocrite: Mavis tries to call Matt this for chewing her out while using his beating as an excuse to do nothing with his life. He turns it around by pointing out that she is a much bigger hypocrite.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Mavis realises while talking to Sandra that other people grow up and feel fulfilled while she doesn't, and that she needs to change. Sandra, who hero-worships her, tells her that she's wrong and that everyone really wishes that they were like her. Mavis then plays this trope tragicomically straight.
  • Inner Monologue: Mavis hears her voice in her head when writing her stories.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • That's not moonshine in Matt's garage still, it's aged bourbon.
    • Mavis is not a writer, she's an author.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Subverted. Matt walks with a crutch, but it's only one of a laundry list of problems he pities himself for. "Wheelchair" Mike Moran, who is handsome, popular, perky, athletic, and more disabled than Matt, tries to be type B, but just manages to piss off Matt and Mavis by stealing everyone's attention.
  • Kick the Dog: Mavis gives Sandra one of these after Sandra's pep talk:
    Mavis: You're right, this place blows. Thank you, I needed that. I have to head back to Minneapolis.
    Sandra: Take me with you!
    Mavis: Excuse me?
    Sandra: Take me with you! You know, to the Mini Apple.
    [Mavis looks at her pityingly]
    Mavis: ...You're good here.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: Mavis and Buddy. Buddy regrets it and thinks it was a mistake, Mavis assumes it meant more than it did.
  • Lipstick-and-Load Montage: Mavis always looks terrible in the morning, waking up hangover with smeared makeup and often in her clothes. However, she always carefully dolls herself up for her evenings and nights out. She puts on lots of makeup, does her nails and hair, stuffs her bra and wears heels. She's seen several times during trips to the salon, including closeups of manicures, facials, etc.
  • Mistaken for Gay: The reason why several jocks nearly beat Matt to death with a crowbar as a teenager, leaving him permanently crippled and needing to use a crutch. Buddy still thinks he is, and is incredulous when Mavis tries to correct him.
  • Mister Muffykins: Mavis' Pomeranian named Dolce spends a significant amount of time in a large handbag.
  • Mixtape of Love: When Mavis decides to go back to her hometown to get back together with her high school sweetheart Buddy, she finds an old mixtape marked "Mad love, Buddy", a tape which she presumably got from him. While driving to Mercury, Minnesota, she's listening to the tape, putting "The Concept" by Teenage Fanclub on repeat.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Mavis is a young adult writer, somewhat like Diablo Cody (though Mavis writes books).
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mavis tries to be this, wearing plenty of revealing outfits and appearing in various states of undress. All it does is show that she is trying too hard, as she's often inappropriately dressed for the venue (dive bar, sports bar, family party).
  • No Animals Allowed: Subverted. Mavis clearly expects the motel where she stays not to accept dogs, and so smuggles her tiny Chihuahua in a backpack. The clerk tells her that they do allow dogs, to which Mavis replies that she's glad, because she has a dog in her car. As the bag is audibly snuffling and moving.
  • Odd Couple: Mavis and Matt. Mavis is tall and beautiful, and successful at least by Mercury's standards. Matt is short, homely, disabled, never left town and works at a meaningless job.
  • Parental Bonus: Not in the movie itself (as it's R-Rating makes that unnecessary) but the trailer plays the David Bowie song "Queen Bitch". It never says the offending words, but any Bowie fan will know the song and will know what it's saying about Mavis.
  • Pity Sex: Mavis and Matt have pity sex. An interesting case because the pity is on both sides.
  • Product Placement: Averted with the "KenTacoHut", a 3-in-1 KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut restaurant. It's treated with a fair amount of derision, which then frames Mavis eating there later.
  • Really Gets Around: Mavis, past and present, has a lot of sex. But she ultimately doesn't get the guy she wants, Buddy.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Matt gives one to Mavis, going on about how pointless her quest is and how pathetic she is for even trying.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Mavis gets real for a moment and uncomfortably tells her parents that she thinks she's an alcoholic. They think it's a joke and laugh it off, telling her it's very funny. (They might have realized she was not joking once they see her drunken meltdown at Beth and Buddy's party.)
  • Self-Deprecation: Mavis Gary is a thirtysomething writer who hasn't gotten over her high school years, and writes teen movies... er, young-adult novels peppered with Totally Radical teen slang in order to recreate her Glory Days. Diablo Cody is keenly aware of this fact.
    Diablo Cody: This common question I would get at Q&As or press junkets or what-have-you was: "Why are you so fixated on [movies about] adolescents?" I began wondering, "am I stunted somehow?" And so as I thought about my own life, I thought, "Gosh, that would be a great character — a woman in her 30s who writes young-adult fiction and does in fact cling to deluded teenage fantasies in her real life, and is obsessed with recreating her teenage years come hell or high water."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Mavis is exactly as miserable at the end of the film as she was at the beginning.
  • Shout-Out: The store is called "Buy Buy Baby", a play on Lois Lane's line in Superman II.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Matt after Mavis explains why he should just get over the attack that permanently damaged the lower half of his body.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: One of Mavis's reasons for going after Buddy, her high school sweetheart. He's a family man, very loving, and generally seems like a great catch. It's noted by her parents that Mavis' ex-husband was also a Nice Guy.
  • Small Town Boredom: Escaped by Mavis prior to the film's events, Matt's sister Sandra is desperate to do the same.note .
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: To the point where the film could be called “Realistic Outcome: The Movie”. Essentially, this movie is exactly what would happen if you took Hope Floats, Sweet Home Alabama, and My Best Friend's Wedding, and their tropes, and put them in the real world. Mavis thinks she is in one of those movies: the former Prom Queen coming home to rescue her first love from a loveless marriage, and will be welcomed back by the town. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mavis, the former Prom Queen, has not mellowed with age and gotten more sympathetic; if anything, she’s worse. Her first love, Buddy, is clearly happily married and gotten over her, while the townspeople want nothing to do with her, with someone calling her a “psychotic prom queen bitch”, and Buddy, the love she thinks she’s rescuing from a hapless marriage, reveals that he wanted nothing to do with her; it was his wife that forced him to get back in touch with her, as the town feels sorry for her.
  • Totally Radical: Mavis writes her characters' dialogue in whatever teen slang she overhears at fast-food joints or at clothing stores.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Mavis, although there's a heavy level of Black Comedy in it. She is very depressed, extremely self-centered, and narcissistic.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mavis has a big ol' drunken freakout at Buddy's baby's naming ceremony.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Didn't Mavis leave a dude in her apartment at the beginning? How did he get out? What happened to him?
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Mavis is sure she's the hometown girl made good, back to fix everyone she grew up with (clear, for example, in her speech to Matt) and rescue her high-school sweetheart from his loveless marriage. This is incorrect. She also expects Beth to be threatened by her presence. On the contrary, Beth feels sorry for her and actually invited her over.