"Young adult" is a polyvalent description of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a ghostwriter for a YA series about horrid, privileged high schoolers. She lives in luxury squalor, neglects her Pomeranian (the film could be partially but nevertheless faithfully and fruitfully read as an inversion of Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy), and one day receives a mass email announcement from a high school sweetheart that he and his wife are having a baby. Mavis travels back to her small Minnesota hometown, Mercury, where she attempts to steal Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) away from his domestic entrapment to a life of — well, who knows, that’s not the point.
The casting is perfect: Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehaur plays Pluto to Mavis's Mercury. The writing is good. The structure is repetitive, recursive — a strong reflection of Mavis's interiority and doomed quest.
Other than that, I don’t have much to say by way of straightforward commentary (the film speaks for itself, mostly), so I’d like to take this opportunity to parasitize Young Adult in order to illustrate the potency of Michel Serres's The Parasite, a book dedicated to an exploration and articulation of the one-directional arrow that defines relationality as such.
Mavis is a ghostwriter, seemingly in first position as the creator of the series parasites her work. But it becomes obvious (if we couldn’t have guessed from the beginning) that Mavis is not a producer but a reproducer, living from and through her own idealized adolescence. Already a sort of nothing, drinking herself into oblivion in a messy high-rise apartment, Mavis would fall into critical condition if she weaned herself off of the delusions of memory.
Buddy's baby is a rival parasite. Buddy's wife is a rival parasite. For Mavis, the entirety of Mercury steals Buddy's vitality and denies him a life of happiness with Mavis. Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) is a fellow parasite. His past is a crutch no less than Mavis's (and more literally). Mavis parasites Matt because "guys like [him] are born to love girls like [her]." The one moment in which the arrow hesitates to point is when Mavis fucks Matt or Matt fucks Mavis. Abuse value is Serres's brilliant term.
Given the parasite, how do we make a better humanity? Maybe that's the dumbest question ever posed. Maybe that's why Mavis, on the brink of self-awareness and the threshold of growth, is pulled back from her moment of radical vulnerability by another, weaker parasite: Matt's sister, who dreams of following Mavis to the city, where she will finally be able to live a life of — well, who knows, that's not the point.