“Young Adult”: You can’t go home again to Kilimanjaro

Movie Review

Young Adult

Directed by Jason Reitman

Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, J.K. Simmons

Rated R , 94 minutes

Mavis Gary, 37 and alcoholic, wants to go back to her old hometown and her old home boyfriend. After all, she was a minor celebrity in high school. She snarls her contempt for everyone in the hometown; they mostly return the favor, and the movie audience will mostly take the townspeoples’ side.

Don’t let them sell it to you as “dark humor.” It isn’t deep enough to be dark and there’s no humor anywhere.

So what does that have to do with the snows of Kilimanjaro? Well, Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story in 1936 and a movie was made of it in 1952 with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Susan Hayward. It shows on TV every now and again.

In the movie, Gregory Peck lies dying of gangrene within sight of beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro. He had been a hunter in Africa during happier times. The dying man stops arguing with his long-suffering wife long enough to tell her about a leopard that was found dead in the snows at the top of the peak. Why would a jungle animal die at the top of a mountain? Why would Gregory Peck rot to death in a remote part of Africa? As the movie agonizes on, Peck’s character explains that the leopard must have been trying to return to the last place where his life seemed to make sense. The leopard is the metaphor for the whole movie.

I’ve seen it several times and, despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy it at all, it’s always bothered me. So that’s two similarities with Jason Reitman’s movie. They both bothered me and I didn’t like either one.

The fact that Peck’s character and Charlize Theron’s character in “Young Adults” are both writers is another similarity. Stories about writers seem more likely to be true and are uncomfortably personal. That’s a third similarity.

It also bothers me that the actual snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are gone. They fell casualty to global warming. That bothers me more than either movie. In “Young Adults,” Charlize Theron’s character, adolescent in everything but looks, has a habit of pulling out her own blonde hair.

The only uplifting thing in the movie was the IATSE union bug in the last frame.

But Charlize Theron is an amazing actress. Easily one of the most beautiful women ever on screen, she takes on impossibly rough roles of horrible women. She won an academy award as a homicidal truck stop prostitute in “Monster.” Even that serial killer was more likeable than the drunken and petty Mavis Gary. Theron has to play all the layers of such a woman as she vamps, tricks, cheats, lies to, and tramples the feelings of everybody else in the film. It is an excellent turn of acting, just in time for Academy nominations. If Theron hadn’t been so wonderfully convincing, the movie wouldn’t have been so pathetically hard to watch.

Photo: Film still